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People v. Parks

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Second Division

November 5, 2015

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Timothy Scott Parks, Defendant-Appellant

          Arapahoe County District Court No. 09CR1337. Honorable Elizabeth Beebe Volz, Judge.

         Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Victoria M. Cisneros, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

         Martinez Law, LLC, Esteban A. Martinez, Longmont, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.

         Dailey and Booras, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

          NAVARRO, JUDGE.

          [¶1] Defendant, Timothy Scott Parks, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of multiple offenses and the trial court's finding that he is an habitual criminal. He contends that some of his convictions were based on evidence that should have been suppressed at trial because it was obtained in violation of his right, under article II, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution, to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. In particular, Parks argues that the Colorado Supreme Court has held that the State Constitution provides greater protection against a vehicle inventory search than the Federal Constitution. We disagree and therefore affirm the judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

          [¶2] In June 2009, a Littleton police officer observed Parks driving a van on a city street and checked the license plate for possible traffic violations. The officer discovered that the license plate had expired in 2008 but displayed a 2009 registration sticker. He stopped the van on suspicion of fictitious license plates. Parks, who was the only occupant of the van, provided a revoked driver's license and admitted that he did not have insurance or registration for the van. The officer asked Parks to get out of the car and sit on the curb while a second officer conducted an exterior canine sniff of the van, which did not indicate the presence of drugs. The first officer called a towing company to impound the van.

          [¶3] The officer then inventoried the contents of the van pursuant to Littleton Police Department policy. Behind the driver's seat, he found and unzipped a soft-sided nylon cooler. Inside, he found nine plastic baggies of methamphetamine, two pipes, a digital scale, a scoop, a spoon, an empty pill bottle, two wiretap detection devices, and a receipt listing a credit card allegedly belonging to Parks. Parks was arrested and ultimately charged with drug and traffic offenses as well as seven habitual criminal counts.

          [¶4] Before trial, Parks moved to suppress the evidence collected from the inventory search. Evidence presented at a motions hearing showed that the Littleton Police Department's standard operating procedure for impounded vehicles required officers to inventory the contents of a closed container if access to the container " can be gained without physical damage to the container or the contents." The trial court ultimately denied Parks's motions, citing Pineda v. People, 230 P.3d 1181 (Colo. 2010), disapproved of on other grounds by People v. Vaughn, 334 P.3d 226, 2014 CO 71, and finding that the police officer had followed a standardized departmental policy in conducting the inventory search and that there was no evidence of bad faith or pretext. The court also explained: " [S]o that there's no mistake about it, the court's rulings denying the motions to suppress are based on both a consideration of the U.S. constitution and the Colorado constitution."

          [¶5] The evidence gathered from the inventory search was admitted at trial. Parks was convicted of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, driving under suspension, failing to provide insurance, displaying fictitious license plates, driving an unregistered vehicle, and six habitual criminal counts. He was sentenced to thirty-two years in prison to be served concurrently with his sixty-four year prison sentence in another case.

         II. Vehicle Inventory Search

          [¶6] Parks contends that the trial court erred by declining to suppress the evidence gathered from the inventory search of the cooler found in his van. Although he concedes that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, he maintains that the search violated his rights guaranteed by article II, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. In support, Parks claims that the Colorado Supreme Court in People v. Counterman, 192 Colo. 152, 556 P.2d 481 (1976), held that the State Constitution provides greater protection from inspection of a " nondescript" closed container found during a vehicle inventory search. We are not persuaded.

         A. Standard of Review

          [¶7] A trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of fact and law. People v. Vissarriagas, 278 P.3d 915, 2012 CO 48, ¶ 7, disapproved of on other grounds by People v. Vaughn, 334 P.3d 226, 2014 CO 71. We defer to the court's factual findings if supported by the record, but we review its conclusions of law de novo. Id. In the absence of a clear statement that the trial court relied on the State Constitution, we presume that the court addressed only the Federal Constitution. People v. Inman, 765 P.2d 577, 578-79 (Colo. 1988). Here, however, the trial court clearly stated that it relied on both federal and state constitutional law.

         B. Analysis

          [¶8] Article II, section 7 of the Colorado ...


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