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People v. Ball

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

December 18, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Brandy Frances Ball. Defendant-Appellee

         Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court El Paso County District Court Case No. 16CR5742 Honorable Deborah J. Grohs, Judge.

          Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Daniel H. May, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District James McGehee, Deputy District Attorney Tanya A. Karimi, Deputy District Attorney Colorado Springs, Colorado

          Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee: The Kohn Law Firm Molly Hostetler Shimon Kohn Colorado Springs, Colorado

          OPINION

          COATS JUSTICE.

         ¶1 The People filed an interlocutory appeal, as authorized by section 16-12-102(2), C.R.S. (2017), and C.A.R. 4.1, from an order of the district court suppressing statements made by, and contraband seized from, Ball. Although the district court found her initial stop to be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion, it nevertheless found that before she made any inculpatory statements, the seizure of her person had exceeded the permissible scope of an investigatory stop; that she was already under arrest by the time she was interrogated without the benefit of Miranda warnings; and that her subsequent consent to search her purse and car was not voluntary.

         ¶2 Because the district court either misapprehended or misapplied the controlling legal standards governing investigatory stops, arrests, and custodial interrogations, and because the warrantless searches of the defendant's car and purse were justified on the basis of probable cause and exigent circumstances, without regard for the voluntariness of her consent or compliance with the dictates of section 16-1-301, C.R.S. (2017), the statute governing consensual vehicle searches in this jurisdiction, the district court's suppression order is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I.

         ¶3 Following the recovery of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia from the purse and car of Brandy Frances Ball on the evening of October 29, 2016, she was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. She moved to suppress her arrest and all evidence and statements acquired as the product of this encounter with the police, as violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court heard the motion, and with the only witness to testify being the arresting officer and the only exhibit admitted into evidence being the footage from his body camera, the court made findings of fact and conclusions of law and granted the motion to suppress.

         ¶4 As relevant to our resolution of the People's assignments of error on appeal, the district court either expressly found, or unquestioned evidence from the hearing demonstrated, the following historical facts surrounding the events in question. While patrolling a motel parking lot just after 11 p.m., an officer of the Fountain Police Department heard a man and woman inside a car in the rear parking area loudly arguing with each other. As the car drove away from its parking spot, the officer activated his emergency lights, the subject car pulled into another parking spot and stopped, and the officer parked his squad car behind it.

         ¶5 The officer approached the passenger side window and told the man who occupied the passenger seat and the defendant, who was driving, that he had heard them arguing. In response to his inquiry what was going on, both responded that they were just arguing. The officer, who had formal training in drug recognition, testified that the passenger was very jittery and appeared to be under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant, and the defendant appeared extremely tired and may have been grinding her teeth. The officer then asked both for identification and took a step back to call dispatch on his body radio, to check for outstanding warrants or protective orders.

         ¶6 Before receiving any response from dispatch, the officer asked the defendant if he could speak with her and directed her to the rear of the car, where he asked her whether there was anything illegal in the car and, immediately thereafter, when she had last used methamphetamine. Although she initially said it had been a few days, in response to follow-up questions concerning the current possession of contraband by her or the passenger, she conceded that there was methamphetamine, a pipe, and a scale in the car, and she offered to retrieve her purse and show the officer. Despite the officer's response that he simply wanted to know how much of the drug was in the purse, the defendant quickly retrieved it and showed the officer packets of methamphetamine it contained. While awaiting the arrival of a K-9 police unit he had summoned, the officer further asked the defendant for consent to search her car, and an ensuing search revealed drug paraphernalia.

         ¶7 The district court concluded that the initial encounter, the nature of which as a stop was never disputed, was justified by reasonable suspicion to investigate for domestic violence. It also concluded, however, that within seconds the officer could tell there was no domestic violence and as the result of his continued detention of the defendant to inquire about illegal drugs, without reasonable articulable suspicion that she was currently in possession of illegal drugs, "the detention exceeded the parameters of the investigatory stop." The district court further concluded that the defendant was arrested without probable cause and that she was thereafter interrogated and made incriminating statements without being advised of her Miranda rights. Finally, the district court concluded that the defendant's consent to search her car was not voluntary, relying partly on the fact that the officer had not complied with statutory prerequisites to conducting a consensual search of a vehicle, but largely on the ground that the defendant had reasonably relied to her detriment on a police promise that she would not be prosecuted.

         ¶8 The People filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the suppression order, as permitted by section ...


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