State v. Strieff, No. 20120854.

CourtSupreme Court of Utah
Writing for the CourtJustice LEE, opinion of the Court
Citation357 P.3d 532,2015 UT 2
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Respondent, v. Edward Joseph STRIEFF, Jr., Petitioner.
Docket NumberNo. 20120854.
Decision Date16 January 2015

357 P.3d 532
2015 UT 2

STATE of Utah, Respondent
v.
Edward Joseph STRIEFF, Jr., Petitioner.

No. 20120854.

Supreme Court of Utah.

Jan. 16, 2015.


357 P.3d 535

Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey S. Gray, Asst. Att'y Gen., Salt Lake City, for respondent.

Joan C. Watt, Robert K. Engar, Salt Lake City, for petitioner.

Justice LEE authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice DURRANT, Associate Chief Justice NEHRING, Justice DURHAM, and Justice PARRISH joined.

On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

Justice LEE, opinion of the Court:

¶ 1 In this case we are asked to determine the applicability of the “attenuation” exception to the exclusionary rule to a fact pattern addressed in a broad range of lower-court opinions but not by the United States Supreme Court. The essential fact pattern involves an unlawful detention leading to the discovery of an arrest warrant followed by a search incident to arrest. The attenuation inquiry is essentially a proximate cause analysis. It asks whether the fruit of the search is tainted by the initial, unlawful detention, or whether the taint is dissipated by an intervening circumstance. As applied to the outstanding warrant scenario, the question presented is whether and how to apply the attenuation doctrine in this circumstance.

¶ 2 The lower courts are in disarray in their application of the attenuation doctrine to the outstanding warrant scenario. In some courts the discovery of an outstanding warrant is deemed a “compelling” or dispositive

357 P.3d 536

“intervening circumstance,” purging the taint of an initially unlawful detention upon a showing that the detention was not a “purposeful” or “flagrant” violation of the Fourth Amendment.1 In other courts, by contrast, the outstanding warrant is a matter of “ ‘minimal importance,’ ” and the doctrine's applicability is strictly curtailed.2

¶ 3 We adopt a third approach. We conclude that the attenuation exception is limited to the general fact pattern that gave rise to its adoption in the United States Supreme Court—of a voluntary act of a defendant's free will (as in a confession or consent to search). For cases arising in the context of two parallel acts of police work—one unlawful and the other lawful—we interpret the Supreme Court's precedents to dictate the applicability of a different exception (inevitable discovery).

¶ 4 Our holding is rooted in our attempt to credit the terms of the attenuation doctrine as prescribed in the Supreme Court's opinions, while also respecting the parallel doctrine of inevitable discovery. Thus, we read the Court's attenuation cases to define the conditions for severing the proximate causal connection between a threshold act of police illegality and a subsequent, intervening act of a defendant's free will. And in the distinct setting of both unlawful and then lawful police activity, we deem the inevitable discovery doctrine to control. Because this case involves no independent act of a defendant's free will and only two parallel lines of police work, we hold that the attenuation doctrine is not implicated, and thus reverse the lower court's invocation of that doctrine in this case.

I. Background

¶ 5 In December, 2006, an anonymous caller left a message on a police drug tip line reporting “narcotics activity” at a South Salt Lake City residence. Police officer Douglas Fackrell subsequently conducted intermittent surveillance of the residence for approximately three hours over the course of about one week. During that time, the officer observed “short term traffic” at the home. The traffic was not “terribly frequent,” but was frequent enough that it raised Officer Fackrell's suspicion. In Officer Fackrell's view, the traffic was more than one would observe at a typical house, with visitors often arriving and then leaving within a couple of minutes. Thus, the officer concluded that traffic at the residence was consistent with drug sales activity.

¶ 6 During his surveillance of the residence, Officer Fackrell saw Edward Strieff leave the house—though he did not see him enter—and walk down the street toward a convenience store. As Strieff approached the convenience store, Officer Fackrell ordered Strieff to stop in the parking lot. Strieff complied. Officer Fackrell testified that he detained Strieff because “[Strieff] was coming out of the house that [he] had been watching and [he] decided that [he'd] like to ask somebody if [he] could find out what was going on [in] the house.” Officer Fackrell identified himself as a police officer, explained to Strieff that he had been watching the house because he believed there was drug activity there, and asked Strieff what he was doing there.

¶ 7 Officer Fackrell also requested Strieff's identification, which Strieff provided. Officer Fackrell then called dispatch and asked them to run Strieff's ID and check for outstanding warrants. Dispatch responded that Strieff had “a small traffic warrant.” Officer Fackrell then arrested Strieff on the outstanding warrant and searched him incident to the arrest. During the search, the officer found a baggie of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in Strieff's pockets.

¶ 8 Strieff was charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. He moved to suppress the evidence seized in the search incident to his arrest, arguing that it was fruit of an unlawful investigatory stop. The State conceded that Officer Fackrell had stopped Strieff without reasonable articulable suspicion (given that Officer Fackrell had not

357 P.3d 537

seen Strieff enter the house, did not know how long he had been there, and knew nothing of him other than that he left the house). The State argued, however, that the exclusionary rule did not bar the evidence seized in the search because the attenuation exception to the exclusionary rule applied.

¶ 9 The district court agreed and denied Strieff's motion to suppress and subsequent motion to reconsider. First, the district court found that Officer Fackrell “believed he had seen enough short-term traffic at the house to create a reasonable suspicion that the house was involved in drug activity,” and thus that the purpose of the stop “was to investigate a suspected drug house.” Second, while acknowledging that Officer Fackrell's belief that he had sufficient suspicion to stop Strieff was incorrect, the court concluded that “the stop was not a flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment” but a “good faith mistake on the part of the officer as to the quantum of evidence needed to justify an investigatory detention.” Finally, “[w]eighing the factors in their totality,” the court found “suppression to be an inappropriate remedy,” concluding that “the search was conducted after discovering an outstanding warrant and arresting the Defendant on that warrant, an intervening circumstance that Officer Fackrell did not cause and could not have anticipated.”

¶ 10 Strieff entered a conditional guilty plea to charges of attempted possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, reserving his right to appeal the order denying his motions to suppress and reconsider. The court of appeals affirmed under the attenuation exception to the exclusionary rule recognized in Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 95 S.Ct. 2254, 45 L.Ed.2d 416 (1975). State v. Strieff, 2012 UT App 245, 286 P.3d 317. Applying the factors set forth in Brown, a majority of the court of appeals concluded that the discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant was a powerful “intervening circumstance” dissipating the taint of the unlawful detention, and that Officer Fackrell's detention of Strieff was not a “purposeful” or “flagrant” violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id. at ¶¶ 21, 27. And although the “temporal proximity” of the discovery of the warrant weighed against attenuation, the majority deemed that factor outweighed by the existence of an intervening circumstance and the lack of a purposeful or flagrant violation. Id. at ¶¶ 29–30, 37.

¶ 11 Judge Thorne dissented. He disagreed with the majority's analysis of the attenuation factors as applied to this case. Id. at ¶¶ 46, 48–50. And he expressed discomfort with what he saw as an inconsistency between the outcome of this case and that of State v. Topanotes, 2003 UT 30, 76 P.3d 1159, a case arising under similar facts but decided under the inevitable discovery exception. Strieff filed a petition for certiorari, which we granted.

¶ 12 On certiorari, we review not the underlying decision of the district court but the ultimate decision of the court of appeals—a decision that merits no deference in our analysis. See State v. Verde, 2012 UT 60, ¶ 13, 296 P.3d 673. “That said, [t]he correctness of the court of appeals' decision turns, in part, on whether it accurately reviewed the district court's decision under the appropriate standard of review.” Id. (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). And the deference, if any, we owe to the district court's decision varies depending on the nature of the determination in question.

¶ 13 First, any factual determinations made by the district court are entitled to substantial deference under a standard of review for clear error. See Manzanares v. Byington (In re Adoption of Baby...

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8 practice notes
  • State v. Sizer, No. 0784
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 de novembro de 2016
    ...court refused to suppress the evidence but the Utah Supreme Court ultimately held that the evidence had been unconstitutionally seized. 357 P.3d 532 (2015). The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Utah Supreme Court. After making reference to Segura v. United States and the Inde......
  • Utah v. Strieff, No. 14–1373.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • 20 de junho de 2016
    ...the suppression motion. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed. 2012 UT App ¶ 245, 286 P.3d 317.The Utah Supreme Court reversed. 2015 UT ¶ 2, 357 P.3d 532. It held that the evidence was inadmissible because only "a voluntary act of a defendant's free will (as in a confession or consent to searc......
  • State v. Sizer, No. 0784, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 de novembro de 2016
    ...court refused to suppress the evidence but the Utah Supreme Court ultimately held that the evidence had been unconstitutionally seized. 357 P.3d 532 (2015).230 Md.App. 669The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Utah Supreme Court. After making reference to Segura v. United State......
  • State v. Rowan, No. 20150598
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • 1 de dezembro de 2017
    ...seizure of all citizens," and "resulting diminished respect for the judicial process" (capitalizations changed)).24 See State v. Strieff , 2015 UT 2, ¶¶ 41–56, 357 P.3d 532 (pointing out that the attenuation exception and inevitable discovery exception dictated different outcomes in that ca......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • State v. Sizer, No. 0784
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 de novembro de 2016
    ...court refused to suppress the evidence but the Utah Supreme Court ultimately held that the evidence had been unconstitutionally seized. 357 P.3d 532 (2015). The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Utah Supreme Court. After making reference to Segura v. United States and the Inde......
  • Utah v. Strieff, No. 14–1373.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • 20 de junho de 2016
    ...the suppression motion. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed. 2012 UT App ¶ 245, 286 P.3d 317.The Utah Supreme Court reversed. 2015 UT ¶ 2, 357 P.3d 532. It held that the evidence was inadmissible because only "a voluntary act of a defendant's free will (as in a confession or consent to searc......
  • State v. Sizer, No. 0784, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 de novembro de 2016
    ...court refused to suppress the evidence but the Utah Supreme Court ultimately held that the evidence had been unconstitutionally seized. 357 P.3d 532 (2015).230 Md.App. 669The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Utah Supreme Court. After making reference to Segura v. United State......
  • State v. Rowan, No. 20150598
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • 1 de dezembro de 2017
    ...seizure of all citizens," and "resulting diminished respect for the judicial process" (capitalizations changed)).24 See State v. Strieff , 2015 UT 2, ¶¶ 41–56, 357 P.3d 532 (pointing out that the attenuation exception and inevitable discovery exception dictated different outcomes in that ca......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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