Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

People v. Triplett

Court of Appeals of Colorado

June 2, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Justin Triplett, Defendant-Appellant.

         Mesa County District Court No. 12CR1205 Honorable David A. Bottger, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Gabriel P. Olivares, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Kamela Maktabi, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant



         ¶ 1 Defendant, Justin Triplett, appeals his judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance. The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying Triplett's motion to suppress evidence. At the time the charged offense was committed, Triplett was an offender residing in the Mesa County residential community corrections facility. He contends on appeal that a vial of drugs was found in his clothing as the result of an unconstitutional search and that statements he made to law enforcement after being confronted with the illegally obtained evidence should have been suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree" and as involuntary.

         ¶ 2 To address Triplett's arguments, we must determine, as a matter of first impression in Colorado, whether his status as a residential community corrections offender entitled him to a greater expectation of privacy than that of traditional, incarcerated offenders. Under the circumstances here, we conclude that it did not and that, therefore, the search of his clothing was legal and his subsequent statements to law enforcement officials were not tainted nor were they involuntary. Thus, we affirm.

          I. Background and Procedural History

         ¶ 3 All of the facts below are taken from the transcript of the suppression hearing, the trial court's findings of fact, and defendant's motion to suppress. Moody v. People, 159 P.3d 611, 617 (Colo. 2007) (when reviewing a trial court's suppression ruling, an appellate court must only consider evidence presented at the suppression hearing); see also People v. Gomez-Garcia, 224 P.3d 1019, 1022 (Colo.App. 2009).

         ¶ 4 At the time of the alleged offenses, Triplett was serving the remainder of a Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) sentence[1] at a residential community corrections facility. As a "client" at this facility, he was able to obtain passes to leave the premises for work and other approved activities. However, he lived at the facility and was required to remain on the premises if he did not have a valid pass and to return each time his pass expired.

         ¶ 5 While Triplett was showering in the bathroom located off of the facility's community room, a community justice officer, [2] Daniel Wells, entered the bathroom to conduct a routine cleanliness inspection. When Wells saw Triplett's clothing hanging next to the shower, he decided to conduct a random unscheduled search of the clothing. Wells found a vial of off-white powder in Triplett's sock, which was in the pocket of his pants. Triplett's inmate identification card was in the other pants pocket.

         ¶ 6 Upon finding the vial, Wells consulted with Triplett's case manager, who advised Wells to bring Triplett to a problem solving technique (PST) room after his shower. In a conversation with three community corrections personnel, [3] Triplett stated that he bought what he believed to be Adderall from a coworker, that he had taken Adderall in pill form while in the facility, and that he had crushed the remaining pills into a powder.

         ¶ 7 The case manager asked Triplett if he wanted to write a statement, and Triplett responded that he did. Triplett made a written statement of the incident on a template routinely provided to community corrections clients.

         ¶ 8 Triplett was left alone in the room with a clipboard to write his statement. The door was shut and Triplett knew that he could not open it from the inside. While he was writing his statement, a police officer, Chris Kopp, arrived at the facility. Kopp was dispatched on a request to test an unknown substance, but upon arriving, he realized that the facility's officials wished to proceed with charges against Triplett.

         ¶ 9 Kopp waited until Triplett had finished writing his statement before entering the PST room. When he entered the PST room, he advised Triplett of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and asked Triplett if he wanted to talk about what had happened. Triplett paused briefly and then began telling the officer what had happened, namely that he had purchased Adderall from a coworker and had taken the pills twice and then crushed the remaining pills into a powder.

         ¶ 10 The powder was tested at a lab and was identified as methylphenidate, a schedule II controlled substance. The prosecution charged Triplett with introducing contraband in the first degree and possession of a controlled substance – schedule II – four grams or less.

         ¶ 11 Prior to trial, Triplett moved to suppress the vial of powder, arguing that it had been obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights because the search was not based on a warrant or any individualized or reasonable suspicion. Triplett also moved to suppress his statements to community corrections personnel and Kopp. The trial court held a suppression hearing and issued a written order denying Triplett's motion.

         ¶ 12 At a bench trial, the prosecution proffered and the court admitted into evidence the vial of powder, the lab results on the powder, and Triplett's statements to Kopp. The court acquitted Triplett of introducing contraband, but it found him guilty of possession of a controlled substance. The court sentenced Triplett to two years of unsupervised probation. This appeal followed.

         II. Suppression Hearing and Order

         ¶ 13 Because we are limited to the facts and evidence presented at the hearing and the court's application of the law to those facts, we set out the details of the motion, hearing, and court order below. Moody, 159 P.3d at 617; Gomez-Garcia, 224 P.3d at 1022. A. Triplett's Motion

         ¶ 14 In his motion, Triplett argued that he had a greater expectation of privacy than an incarcerated inmate because of his status as a community corrections offender. Thus, he argued, the search was required to be based, at the very least, on a warrant or individualized or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing in order to comply with the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches. He also asserted that his statements to the community corrections personnel and Kopp should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree or, in the alternative, as involuntary statements in violation of the Fifth Amendment. B. The Suppression Hearing

         ¶ 15 The evidence showed that Triplett was referred to the Mesa County community corrections program by the DOC. At the time of the hearing and during his stay in community corrections, Triplett was an "inmate" searchable on the DOC inmate database. Moreover, a manager of the Mesa County Criminal Justice Department (the manager) testified on cross-examination that Triplett was considered an inmate within the DOC while residing at the facility.

         ¶ 16 The community corrections facility where Triplett lived was referred to as a "detention facility." As an offender in a residential program, Triplett could request passes to leave the facility for work and other authorized activities, but if he left without a pass or failed to return before the pass expired, he was subject to escape charges; Triplett could not lawfully leave the facility whenever he chose. On the day of the search and interrogations, Triplett did not have a pass and was not free to lawfully leave the facility.

         ¶ 17 Wells testified that cleanliness inspections are a normal part of his job and that he inspects certain areas of the facility, including bathrooms, five times per day. He further clarified that clients are subject to random searches three times per week when they return to the facility and must undergo urinalysis tests every month. Clients are also subject to searches before entering a PST room. Moreover, he said an officer such as himself could conduct unscheduled searches as often as necessary.

         ¶ 18 Wells admitted that the search of Triplett's clothing was a random unscheduled search and that he had no reason to suspect Triplett of wrongdoing. He further testified that he decided to conduct the random search because of advice given to him by another corrections officer regarding the best time and place to search for contraband.

         ¶ 19 The manager testified that when Triplett was admitted to the facility, he underwent a standard intake process. Intake included inventorying his property, signing intake paperwork, an orientation on the program, and filling out personal health information. As part of the intake process, Triplett was given a client handbook that contained all of the rules and expectations of the program. The handbook specifically advised clients that they could be searched for contraband at any point for any reason. The manager further testified that clients are given a test to demonstrate their understanding of the rules. While looking at Triplett's community corrections file, the manager testified that Triplett had taken and passed the test on the client handbook. Specifically, Triplett missed only two of the "fifty some" questions and answered the question about contraband searches correctly.[4]

         ¶ 20 According to Wells, the questioning by the community corrections personnel was "cordial" and not aggressive. The PST room was approximately eight feet by ten feet and had windows. The room contained a single chair and no table. The personnel stood in the door frame or just outside the room in the hall to speak with Triplett - the door was open during that interrogation.

         ¶ 21 The entire incident, including both interrogations and the time Triplett took to write his statement, lasted one hour. Defense counsel did not make any argument or proffer any evidence that there was any form of physical or emotional coercion (promises, bribery, etc.) involved in either the interrogation by the facility's personnel or by Kopp.

         ¶ 22 The prosecutor argued that the search was proper because, as an inmate, Triplett did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his clothing while at the detention facility. However, the prosecutor conceded that the statements made to the community corrections personnel without Miranda warnings should be suppressed. But he asserted that the written statement and the statements to Kopp were voluntary and admissible.

         ¶ 23 Defense counsel argued that Triplett was entitled to a greater expectation of privacy as a community corrections offender because he had more freedom than a traditional DOC inmate. It followed, he argued, that the prosecution was required to prove that Wells had an individualized or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing or that there was an exception to the warrant requirement, but that the prosecution had failed to show either. Moreover, because the search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, counsel further argued that Triplett's statements to Kopp were also inadmissible because they were based on the illegal search and were also involuntary.[5] C. Trial Court's Order

         ¶ 24 The court's written order denied Triplett's motion to suppress the drugs, the written statement, and the oral statements to Kopp. The court did not analyze the oral statements to the community corrections personnel because the prosecution had conceded that issue.

         ¶ 25 Regarding the search of Triplett's clothing, the court concluded that Triplett did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy that society was willing to recognize because his status was more analogous to that of an inmate in the DOC with a nearly nonexistent expectation of privacy than that of an offender on probation or parole who has diminished expectations of privacy, but more of an expectation of privacy than a DOC inmate. In so ruling, the court analogized this case to the supreme court's opinion in People v. McCullough, 6 P.3d 774 (Colo. 2000), which held that a warrantless, unannounced search of a parolee's home did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court's order specifically concluded that "Colorado society would agree that a parolee living at home has a reasonable expectation of greater privacy than a community corrections resident." The court also found that the search was done at a reasonable hour, was reasonable because it was not prolonged, and was not harassing.

         ¶ 26 As to the voluntariness of Triplett's statements to Kopp, the court concluded the test in Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985), was applicable. Although noting that there was little evidence presented on the voluntariness test by either party, the court nevertheless proceeded to make findings based on the record before it. The court found that "there is no evidence at all of coercive police conduct, which is a predicate to finding involuntariness." Ultimately, the court concluded that the prosecution had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Triplett's statements to Kopp were voluntary.

         III. Analysis

         ¶ 27 On appeal, Triplett contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the drugs found in his clothing and his statements to Kopp.[6] Specifically, he asserts that the drugs were found through an illegal search by Wells because the search was conducted without a warrant and was not supported by reasonable or individualized suspicion. He further asserts that his statements to Kopp should have been suppressed both because they were fruit of the illegal ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.