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People v. Camarigg

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

September 7, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Michael A. Camarigg, Defendant-Appellant.

         Boulder County District Court No. 13CR1092 Honorable Patrick D. Butler, Judge Honorable Thomas F. Mulvahill, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Joseph G. Michaels, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Karen Mahlman Gerash, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

          Jones and Welling, JJ, concur

          OPINION

          GRAHAM J. JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Michael A. Camarigg, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI); careless driving; and possessing chemicals, supplies, or equipment with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. We affirm.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 After defendant was arrested for DUI, officers decided to impound his Jeep because it was parked in front of a gas pump at a gas station. The officers conducted an inventory search of the vehicle and discovered a sealed box containing items commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Based on those items, they obtained a warrant to search the Jeep and found additional items used to manufacture meth.

         ¶ 3 The People charged defendant with DUI; careless driving; and possession of chemicals, supplies, or equipment with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. A jury convicted him of all charges.

         II. Motion to Suppress

         ¶ 4 Defendant first argues that the trial court should have excluded evidence discovered in the inventory search of his Jeep and under the subsequently issued warrant. We disagree.

         A. Additional Facts

         ¶ 5 After stopping defendant on suspicion of DUI, Corporal Jonathan Bomba of the Lafayette Police Department called a DUI officer to complete the DUI investigation and arrest. Once defendant was placed under arrest, Corporal Bomba began an inventory search of the Jeep so it could be impounded. Corporal Alex Grotzky later arrived and assisted with the inventory search.

         ¶ 6 In the cargo area, Corporal Grotzky found a gasoline canister and a transmission fluid container with tubes coming out of them. These items "kind of piqued [his] attention as possibly something that could be used in meth manufacturing." He also found a United States Postal Service (U.S.P.S.) box addressed to "Jayne McCoy" in Idaho Springs, from a return address in Arizona without a name. Corporal Grotzky cut the box open and discovered drain cleaner, leaking hydrochloric acid, a glass beaker, and pH testing strips. Recognizing these items as consistent with methamphetamine manufacturing, Corporal Grotzky called a hazardous materials team to determine if the Jeep was an active meth lab. The hazmat team determined it was not an active lab, and the Jeep was impounded. A search warrant was later issued, and officers discovered additional items consistent with the manufacture of methamphetamine.

         ¶ 7 Defendant moved to suppress evidence obtained from the inventory search and under the warrant. He argued that the officers had options other than impounding his Jeep and that the inventory search was not conducted according to a policy that sufficiently curtailed police discretion, but, instead, permitted general rummaging. He also asserted that the evidence obtained under the warrant was tainted because the warrant was based on evidence found in the allegedly unconstitutional inventory search.

         ¶ 8 The prosecution argued that the officers acted reasonably in impounding defendant's Jeep because other options were impractical under the circumstances. The prosecutor also argued that the inventory search was valid because department policy required officers to open sealed containers found in an inventory search.

         ¶ 9 The Lafayette Police Department manual provided that

[a]ll property in a stored or impounded vehicle shall be inventoried and listed on the vehicle storage form. This includes the trunk and any compartments or containers, even if they are closed and/or locked. Members conducting inventory searches should be as thorough and accurate as practicable in preparing an itemized inventory. . . .
If the apparent potential for damage to a locked container reasonably appears to outweigh the protection of the items inside, other options to consider regarding locked containers include, but are not limited to, obtaining access to the locked container from the owner, placing the locked container into safekeeping or obtaining a written waiver of responsibility for the contents of the locked container.

         ¶ 10 Corporal Grotzky testified at the suppression hearing that he did not make the decision to impound defendant's Jeep, but factors likely informing that decision included the following:

. Impounding a vehicle "is common practice with a DUI where you don't want the person to get booked and released and go out and drive the vehicle."
. The officers "[did not] have permission from [the gas station] owner to leave the car there."
. The Jeep "was parked kind of in a unique position in front of a gas pump where it would have been a nuisance."
. Defendant's passenger "had admitted to Corporal Bomba that she had consumed alcohol" and had left the scene by the time Corporal Grotzky arrived.

         ¶ 11 Corporal Grotzky further explained that he elected to open the sealed U.S.P.S. box because, while "[t]here's some discretion within our policy" whether to open closed containers, he "wanted to make sure that there were no . . . valuable items that [he] . . . [or] the tow truck driver would be responsible for, [and] that the defendant could [not] come back and claim that [he] . . . [or] the tow truck driver [had] damaged or broken [defendant's property]." Corporal Grotzky believed cutting the tape on the box would not damage it, and he "figured if . . . they needed to put a new piece of tape on it afterwards it wouldn't be a big issue."

         ¶ 12 The trial court concluded that the Jeep was lawfully impounded and the inventory search was conducted according to standard policy. The court found no evidence of pretext because while officers had some discretion in whether to impound a vehicle, there were "some coherent and reasonable reasons" why other options were impractical. The court also found that "the determination to do an inventory search [was made] . . . before there was any evidence or even suspicion by the officer that there would be some sort of illegal items found inside." Thus, the court denied defendant's motion to suppress.

         B. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         ¶ 13 We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress as a mixed question of fact and law. People v. Parks, 2015 COA 158, ¶ 7. We defer to the court's factual findings if they are supported by the record, but we review its conclusions of law de novo. Id.

         ¶ 14 Unreasonable searches violate the United States and Colorado Constitutions. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Colo. Const. art. II, § 7. Warrantless searches are presumptively unconstitutional unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies. Parks, ¶ 10. Inventory searches are one exception. Id. Inventory searches "are designed to protect the owner's property while it is in police custody, to insure against claims concerning lost or damaged property, and to protect the police from any danger posed by the contents of the vehicle." Pineda v. People, 230 P.3d 1181, 1185 (Colo. 2010), disapproved of on other grounds by People v. Vaughn, 2014 CO 71.

         ¶ 15 Inventory searches are reasonable if (1) the vehicle was lawfully taken into custody, id.; (2) the search was conducted according to "an established, standardized policy, " Vaughn, ¶ 14; and (3) there is no showing police acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation, Pineda, 230 P.3d at 1185.

         ¶ 16 A vehicle is lawfully taken into custody if the seizure is authorized by law and department regulations and is reasonable. People v. Brown, 2016 COA 150, ¶¶ 14-15 (cert. granted July 3, 2017); People v. Gee, 33 P.3d 1252, 1255-57 (Colo.App. 2001).

         ¶ 17 The inventory search must then be conducted according to a standardized procedure so as not to become "a ruse for a general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence." Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4 (1990). Police discretion is permitted in conducting the search "so long as that discretion is exercised according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity." Id. at 3-4 (quoting Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 375 (1987)). "The policy or practice governing inventory searches should be designed to produce an inventory, " id. at 4, not as "a purposeful and general means of discovering evidence of crime, " id. (quoting Bertine, 479 U.S. at 376 (Blackmun, J., concurring)). The policy need not be in writing, so long as it is routinely used by officers. Brown, ¶ 16.

         ¶ 18 Finally, when assessing whether an inventory search was pretextual, the officer's subjective motives are irrelevant. Vaughn, ΒΆ 11 n.7. Instead, we ask whether the officer's actions were ...


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