Wilson v. State, 92-111

Citation874 P.2d 215
Decision Date18 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. 92-111,92-111
PartiesWesley WILSON, Appellant (Defendant), v. STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

Leonard D. Munker, State Public Defender, Gerald M. Gallivan, Director, Wyoming Defender Aid Program, Stephanie Bryant Student Intern, and Aaron Phillips, Student Intern, for appellant.

Joseph B. Meyer, Atty. Gen., Sylvia L. Hackl, Deputy Atty. Gen., and Barbara L. Boyer, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.


TAYLOR, Justice.

The constitutionality of a police officer's actions in demanding a citizen's identification following an initial offer of assistance are challenged in this case of first impression before the court. Also questioned is the possible "taint" that an improper seizure may have created on subsequently obtained evidence. Determining that a violation of federal constitutional rights occurred when the officer, following the policy of his department, seized a pedestrian to complete a check for outstanding warrants without reasonable suspicion of present or past criminal conduct, we reverse the judgment and sentence imposed by the district court.


Appellant presents two issues for review:

I. Whether the policy of the Casper Police Department to stop and ask persons for identification, in the early morning hours, without any justification violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 4 of the Wyoming Constitution. It is an even greater intrusion to detain an individual until a records check is run to determine whether the individual is wanted for some violation.

II. Whether the seizure of Wesley Wilson violated the standards for a permissible seizure as set forth in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I[,] § 4 of the Wyoming Constitution and defined by the United States Supreme Court and consequently, several pieces of evidence are tainted by the illegality and should have been suppressed.


Limping severely, Wesley Wilson (Wilson) walked rapidly eastbound on 12th Street in Casper, Wyoming on the morning of June 21, 1991. At 12:31 a.m., Officer Kamron Ritter (Officer Ritter) of the Casper Police Department watched Wilson's "lunging" steps and pulled his patrol car over to the sidewalk. Officer Ritter, believing that a fight may have taken place, asked if Wilson was okay and what happened to his leg. Wilson responded that he had twisted his ankle at a party. Smelling alcohol on Wilson's breath, Officer Ritter requested identification which Wilson provided. Officer Ritter radioed for a routine warrants check with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and local files. This initial encounter with Wilson lasted about a minute and a half.

The conversation with Wilson was interrupted when Officer Ritter detected smoke coming from 12th Street, west of where he was standing. At the same time, two motorcyclists stopped and reported to Officer Ritter that a fire was burning in a building up the street. Before leaving to check on the fire, Officer Ritter told Wilson to "stay in the area."

Officer Ritter reported the fire to the police dispatcher. The fire was in a building located one block away from where Officer Ritter had spotted Wilson. As he waited for the responding fire engines, Officer Ritter checked to make sure the burning building and other nearby homes were unoccupied. The deliberately set fire destroyed a garage-workshop.

After about eight minutes at the scene of the fire, Officer Ritter returned to check on Wilson. He had limped about 40 feet farther east and was attempting to cross 12th Street. As additional fire trucks approached, Officer Ritter helped Wilson cross the street. Officer Ritter then told Wilson to go to a nearby corner and "wait" while the officer returned to the fire scene.

As Officer Ritter provided traffic control, the police dispatcher radioed, at 12:41 a.m., that Wilson had two outstanding arrest warrants. Officer Ritter and Officer Terry Van Oordt then walked down the block to where Wilson was sitting on a lawn at the corner watching the fire. When the officers approached Wilson, they informed him of the outstanding warrants and asked him to stand. Wilson told the officers it was difficult to stand with his injured ankle. The officers noticed an oily patch on the right shoulder of the shirt Wilson was wearing. Both officers touched the stained area and found an oily substance. Wilson volunteered, "What are you doing? I don't smell like smoke." The officers proceeded to arrest Wilson on the outstanding warrants. The following morning, in custody, Wilson made a voluntary statement implicating himself in starting the fire.

At a suppression hearing, Officer Ritter testified about his concerns for Wilson's safety during their initial encounter and that he had no suspicions of Wilson's involvement in the fire or of arresting him for public intoxication. Officer Ritter stated he followed routine Casper Police Department procedure to get the names of subjects police come in "contact" with "at that time of night" and "always" run a warrants check. Officer Ritter said he wanted Wilson to wait until the results of the warrants check were received. During their second encounter, when Officer Ritter helped Wilson cross the street, the officer testified he still had no suspicion of Wilson's potential involvement in the fire but wanted Wilson to wait for the completion of the warrants check. A Casper police detective also testified about the circumstances, including a Miranda warning, involved in Wilson's statement following his arrest on the outstanding warrants.

Wilson, who did not testify at the hearing, argued that the stop was illegal and the evidence gathered from the stop should be suppressed. Wilson also contended that the statements regarding smelling like smoke and implicating him in the starting of the fire should be suppressed. The district court denied the suppression motion, ruling that Officer Ritter's actions were "entirely reasonable in his effort to determine whether the man was hurt and what his situation was." Specifically, the district court found no illegality during the arrest and both of Wilson's statements were ruled admissible.

Wilson was convicted, following a jury trial, of felony property destruction, Wyo.Stat. § 6-3-201(b)(iii) (1988), and burglary, Wyo.Stat. § 6-3-301(a) and (b) (1988). The district court sentenced Wilson to a term of not less than six years nor more than eight years at the Wyoming State Penitentiary on each count. The sentences were to run concurrently.


In general, evidentiary rulings of a district court are not disturbed on appeal unless a clear abuse of discretion is demonstrated. Armstrong v. State, 826 P.2d 1106, 1111 (Wyo.1992); Garcia v. State, 777 P.2d 603, 607 (Wyo.1989). " 'An abuse of discretion has been said to mean an error of law committed by the court under the circumstances.' " Armstrong, 826 P.2d at 1111 (quoting Martinez v. State, 611 P.2d 831, 838 (Wyo.1980)). Findings on factual issues made by the district court considering a motion to suppress are not disturbed on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. Hyde v. State, 769 P.2d 376, 378 (Wyo.1989); Roose v. State, 759 P.2d 478, 487 (Wyo.1988). See W.R.Cr.P. 12(f) (effective March 24, 1992) (formerly W.R.Cr.P. 16). Since the district court conducts the hearing on the motion to suppress and has the opportunity to: assess the credibility of the witnesses; the weight given the evidence; and make the necessary inferences, deductions and conclusions, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the district court's determination. United States v. Werking, 915 F.2d 1404, 1406 (10th Cir.1990). See Rands v. State, 818 P.2d 44, 46 (Wyo.1991). The issue of law, whether an unreasonable search or seizure occurred in violation of constitutional rights, is reviewed de novo. See Lopez v. State, 643 P.2d 682, 683-85 (Wyo.1982); Cook v. State, 631 P.2d 5, 7-8 (Wyo.1981); and United States v. Walker, 941 F.2d 1086, 1090 (10th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1093, 112 S.Ct. 1168, 117 L.Ed.2d 414 (1992).

Wilson's statement of the issues presumes his appeal is one based on provisions of both the United States Constitution and the Wyoming Constitution. The language of Wyo. Const. art. 1, § 4 differs somewhat from its federal counterpart in providing:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by affidavit, particularly describing the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized.

See Goettl v. State, 842 P.2d 549, 558-75 (Wyo.1992), Urbigkit, J., dissenting (arguing search and seizure provisions of the state constitution provide stronger protection than the federal constitution). However, we are unable to consider the impact of those differences in this situation because Wilson has not succeeded in invoking the independent protection of the Wyoming Constitution. See Shongutsie v. State, 827 P.2d 361, 366-67 (Wyo.1992); and Richmond v. State, 554 P.2d 1217, 1223 (Wyo.1976).

Wilson failed to offer any argument supporting an independent state constitutional claim. This court refuses to consider positions unsupported by cogent argument or pertinent authority. Amrein v. Wyoming Livestock Bd., 851 P.2d 769, 772 (Wyo.1993); Triton Coal Co., Inc. v. Mobil Coal Producing, Inc., 800 P.2d 505, 512 (Wyo.1990); Kipp v. Brown, 750 P.2d 1338, 1341 (Wyo.1988). The failure to present proper citation of authority and argument supporting "adequate and independent state grounds," Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1041, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 3477, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (1983), prevents this court, as a matter of policy, from considering other than the federal...

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