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People v. Stock

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

July 3, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner,
Susan Leigh Stock, Respondent,

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 11CA1271

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General Carmen Moraleda, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender Kielly Dunn, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado



         ¶1 In 2011, a jury convicted Susan Stock of third degree burglary and theft for stealing money from vending machines at the hotel where she worked. The court of appeals reversed Stock's convictions, concluding that the trial court erroneously denied Stock's motion to suppress statements she made to a police officer who had entered the hotel room where she lived. Stock's father, who was Stock's invited guest in the room, had opened the door on Stock's behalf in response to the officer's knock, and moved aside to allow the officer to step a few feet inside the hotel-room door. The officer then requested and obtained Stock's express permission to come further into the room to speak with her. The court of appeals reasoned that the police officer's entry into the hotel room was unlawful because Stock's father lacked authority to consent to the officer's entry into the hotel room. In reviewing the court of appeals' decision, we are therefore asked to decide whether the officer's entry into Stock's hotel room violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Importantly, this case does not require us to decide whether Stock's father had authority to consent to a full-blown search of the room; rather, the narrow question before us is whether Stock's father could consent to the officer's limited entry a few feet inside the door.

         ¶2 On the facts of this case, we conclude that Stock conferred authority on her father to consent to the officer's limited entry. The trial court therefore properly denied Stock's motion to suppress, and her statements to the officer were admissible at trial. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 The following facts are drawn from witness testimony and the trial court's findings of fact at Stock's suppression hearing on January 14, 2011.

         ¶4 Susan Stock worked as a front-desk clerk at a Best Western hotel in Winter Park, Colorado. Stock lived in a room at the hotel. In May 2010, the hotel manager discovered that she was missing a key to one of the hotel vending machines and that money had been emptied from the machine. Suspicious that an employee had taken the money, the manager reported the theft to a detective with the Fraser-Winter Park Police Department. The detective visited the hotel and made appointments to interview four hotel employees, one of whom was Stock. On May 18, the detective interviewed Stock in the hotel's front lobby. During that interview, Stock denied taking the key and money.

         ¶5 Two days later, on May 20, Stock reversed course and confessed to the hotel's owner that she had stolen money from the hotel's vending machines. The hotel manager called the police department, reported that one of the employees had confessed, and asked for an officer to respond. A uniformed police officer went to the hotel and spoke to the owner. The hotel owner related to the officer that Stock had confessed and was presently in her hotel room. The hotel owner provided the officer with directions and the room number.

         ¶6 The officer went to Stock's hotel room and knocked on the door. Stock's father, whom the officer knew was not a resident of the hotel room, answered the door. The father opened the door and stepped back into the hotel room, allowing the officer to step inwards. The officer understood the father's action to be an invitation to enter the room. Stock's hotel room was a typical single-room unit with a small entryway, a bathroom on the right side, a bed, and some furniture. The officer took a couple of steps past the hotel-room door and introduced himself. Stock's father asked the officer whether he should remain in the room. The officer asked the father to leave, and the father stepped outside into the hallway. As the father was leaving, the officer saw Stock, who had been on the bed crying when her father opened the door.

         ¶7 The officer asked Stock if he could speak with her, and Stock responded, "Yes." Stock then cleared off a seat in her room for the officer and offered it to him. The officer took the seat and had a thirty-minute conversation with Stock, during which she admitted to taking money from the hotel's vending machines. Stock also produced the vending-machine key and gave it to the officer.

         ¶8 The People charged Stock with third degree burglary in violation of section 18-4-204(1), C.R.S. (2016), and theft of cash with a value of $1, 000 or more, but less than $20, 000, in violation of section 18-4-401(2)(c), C.R.S. (2009). Stock moved to suppress her statements to the officer and the evidence obtained as a result of the officer's entry, arguing that the officer's entry into the room was illegal and that the officer's questioning constituted a custodial interrogation necessitating Miranda warnings. The court held a hearing on the motion, and the parties presented testimony from Stock, her father, the officer, and the detective who had initially interviewed Stock on May 18. Stock testified at the hearing that she did "not really" want the officer to enter her room. However, the trial court found that aspects of Stock's testimony were contradictory, and that Stock's credibility was impaired by her prior felony conviction and her self-interest in having the suppression motion granted.

         ¶9 The court issued a bench ruling denying the motion to suppress, but later expressed concern as to whether it had correctly concluded that the officer's entry into the hotel room was lawful. The court therefore invited the parties to submit written briefing on the issue. The court then issued a written order reaffirming its earlier ruling denying the motion to suppress. The court's written order relied principally on People v. White, 64 P.3d 864, 872 (Colo.App. 2002), in which the court of appeals concluded that a family friend visiting the defendant's father as an overnight houseguest had authority to consent to a police entry into an area of the father's house where a visitor normally would be received. In this case, the trial court reasoned that the officer's entry into Stock's hotel room was analogous to the lawful police entry in White because Stock's father was a close relative, not a casual visitor, and because he had merely allowed the officer to step into the entry area to the hotel room where guests normally would be received. The trial court therefore concluded that Stock's father had authority to let the officer into the entry area of the hotel room. The trial court also reasoned that Stock's father "opened the door for his daughter because she was on the bed crying" when the officer knocked. Finally, the court found from the evidence at the motions hearing that Stock and her father were waiting for law enforcement; the court noted that neither of them acted surprised or asked the officer why he had come to Stock's room. Accordingly, the trial court again concluded that the officer's entry into the hotel room was lawful and denied the motion to suppress.

         ¶10 Stock's three-day jury trial took place in March 2011. The officer testified about Stock's confession in her hotel room on May 20. Stock testified in her own defense. She admitted taking money from the vending machines but claimed that she intended to return the money once she received a commission that she expected for ski-rental customer referrals. The jury convicted Stock of both counts.

         ¶11 On appeal, Stock again argued that her statements should have been suppressed because the officer's entry into her hotel room was unlawful. In an unpublished decision, a panel of the court of appeals agreed. People v. Stock, No. 11CA1271, slip op. at 7-9 (Colo.App. Sept. 11, 2014) (not published pursuant to C.A.R. 35(f)). The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in relying on White because, in its view, White "does not stand for the legal proposition that any visitor who is more than a casual visitor has the authority to allow law enforcement officers into another person's home without that person's consent." Id. at 7. Instead, the court of appeals concluded that the father lacked authority to consent to the officer's entry because the father did not live in the hotel room. Id. at 7-8. And because the officer knew the father did not reside there, the court of appeals further concluded that the officer could not have formed a reasonable (albeit mistaken) belief that the father possessed common authority over the room. Id. at 8. The court of appeals therefore reversed Stock's judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. Id. at 14.

         ¶12 We granted the People's petition for writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' ruling.[1]

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         ¶13 Review of a trial court's suppression order presents a mixed question of law and fact. People v. Simpson, 2017 CO 25, ¶ 12, 392 P.3d 1207, 1210. In reviewing a trial court's suppression ruling, we defer to the trial court's findings of historical fact that are supported by competent evidence in the record, but we assess the legal effect of those historical facts de novo. Id. We may affirm a trial court's suppression ruling on any grounds supported by the record. Moody v. People, 159 P.3d 611, 615 (Colo. 2007) ("[A]ppellate courts have the discretion to affirm decisions, particularly denial of suppression motions, on any basis for which there is a record sufficient to permit conclusions of law, even though they may be on grounds other than those relied upon by the trial court.").

         B. Fourth Amendment Principles

         ¶14 The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. A parallel provision of the Colorado Constitution likewise protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and is generally coextensive with the Fourth Amendment. Colo. Const. art. II, § 7; Simpson, ¶ 16, 392 P.3d at 1211.

         ¶15 The Fourth Amendment does not proscribe all government searches; rather, it proscribes only those that are unreasonable. Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 250 (1991). A warrantless entry into a person's home is presumptively unreasonable unless it falls within a recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. See People v. Taube, 864 P.2d 123, 129 (Colo. 1993).

         ¶16 One such recognized exception is the voluntary consent of a person authorized to grant such consent. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 170-71 (1974). The Supreme Court has long approved of consensual searches "because it is no doubt reasonable for the police to conduct a search once they have been permitted to do so." Jimeno, 500 U.S. at 250-51. Where a third party (rather than the subject of the search) communicates consent, the search is invalid unless the third party has the authority to consent to the particular search at issue. Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 487-90 (1964). A third party's authority to consent to a search of a premises typically stems from the third party's "common authority" over the premises, arising from "mutual use of the property by persons generally having joint access or control for most purposes."[2] Matlock, 415 U.S. at 171 n.7; People v. Strimple, 2012 CO 1, ¶ 21 n.7, 267 P.3d 1219, 1224 n.7. However, both the Supreme Court and this court have also recognized a third party's authority to consent to a search where the subject of the search has conferred authority to consent to the third party. See Stoner, 376 U.S. at 487-89 (discussing whether police had a basis to believe that the defendant had authorized a hotel night clerk to permit police to search the defendant's room); Petersen v. People, 939 P.2d 824, 829 (Colo. 1997) (discussing "authority conferred to an agent by express or implied delegation").

         ¶17 In the context of any third-party consent-as in all Fourth Amendment inquiries-the touchstone for determining the constitutionality of the search is reasonableness, Jimeno, 500 U.S. at 250, and "[w]hat is reasonable depends upon all of the circumstances surrounding the search or seizure and the nature of the search or seizure itself, " United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 537 (1985). Of "great significance" in assessing the Fourth Amendment reasonableness of a search based on third-party consent are our culture's "widely shared social expectations, which are naturally enough influenced by the law of property, but not controlled by its rules." Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 111 (2006); see also Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143 n.12 (1978) (subject's reasonable expectation of privacy depends in part on "understandings that are recognized and permitted by society"); Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 99-100 (1990) (same).

         ¶18 Regardless of social expectations, however, the consent given must be voluntary, as "determined from the totality of all the circumstances." Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 227 (1973). Consent to a search need not be express, but may be implied from the context and circumstances. See Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 2185 (2016) ("[C]onsent to a search need not be express but may be fairly inferred from context . . . ." (citing Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 1415-16 (2013), and Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 313 (1978))); People v. Hyde, 2017 CO 24, ¶ 21, 393 P.3d 962, 967. In addition, the scope of consent given is limited to "that of 'objective' reasonableness"-that is, what "the typical reasonable person [would] have understood by the exchange [with] the officer" about the nature and extent of the search that was authorized. Jimeno, 500 U.S. at 251.

         C. Application

         ¶19 Given the Fourth Amendment's defining emphasis on reasonableness and the "great significance" given to "widely shared social expectations, " Randolph, 547 U.S. at 111, we conclude that the officer's limited entry into Stock's hotel room, in her immediate presence and without her objection, did not violate Stock's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. As previously noted, we need not decide whether Stock's father had authority to consent to a search of the entire room; instead, the ...

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