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People v. Threlkel

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

March 11, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Amber Anne Threlkel, Defendant-Appellee

          Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court Arapahoe County District Court Case No. 17CR3478 Honorable Andrew C. Baum, Judge

          Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: George H. Brauchler, District Attorney, Eighteenth Judicial District Jacob Edson, Chief Deputy District Attorney Centennial, Colorado

          Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender Alaina Almond, Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Howard, Deputy Public Defender Centennial, Colorado

          OPINION

          SAMOUR, JUSTICE

         ¶1 As part of an extensive narcotics investigation that spanned almost all of 2017, law enforcement deputies obtained arrest warrants for the defendant, Amber Anne Threlkel, and her significant other, Robert Allen, based on their alleged distribution of controlled substances. The deputies executed the warrants on December 7, 2017. That evening, they observed a truck owned by Allen leave the residence he shared with Threlkel; they suspected that Allen and Threlkel were both in the truck. As the deputies attempted to perform a traffic stop, the truck evaded them, causing them to momentarily lose sight of it. But they eventually spotted the truck again, stopped it, and apprehended the driver, Allen, within a mile of the home. Although there was no passenger in the truck, Threlkel was located a couple of hundred yards from it, attempting to hitch a ride. It was a frigid and snowy night, the roads were slippery, and there was no easy access on foot between the home and the location of the stop. A deputy who recognized Threlkel detained her. Threlkel was later arrested pursuant to her outstanding warrant.

         ¶2 Threlkel was charged with multiple drug-related offenses. Before trial, she filed several motions to suppress. The trial court granted one of them, finding that the deputies lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop her. The court thus suppressed all evidence and observations derived from Threlkel's stop, including her statements. It later clarified its ruling at the prosecution's request. It explained that its suppression order included the deputies' observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel. Therefore, observed the court, the prosecution would not be allowed to mention at trial that Threlkel was even at the location where she was detained.

         ¶3 We now reverse. We conclude that the deputies had reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain Threlkel. We further conclude that, even if the trial court's contrary ruling had been correct, there is no authority to suppress the deputies' observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel. Accordingly, we remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4 In early 2017, deputies from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office narcotics team launched an extensive drug-related investigation of Threlkel and Allen. At some point, the deputies obtained arrest warrants for the couple based on their alleged distribution of controlled substances. At approximately 7 p.m. on December 7, 2017, Deputy Wood and other narcotics deputies were surveilling the home shared by Threlkel and Allen, looking for an opportunity to execute the warrants. They were hoping to catch Threlkel and Allen away from the home. Allen's truck was parked in front of the residence. While the deputies did not see anyone enter the truck, they noticed that it remained outside the home with its headlights on for a long period of time. This led Deputy Wood to suspect that both Allen and Threlkel were in the truck.

         ¶5 When the truck drove away from the home, the narcotics team asked Deputy Rivers, a patrol deputy, to conduct a traffic stop and contact the occupants of the truck pursuant to the outstanding arrest warrants.[1] Although he did not have information about the identity of the truck's occupants, Deputy Rivers was told that the driver was believed to be male and that the passenger was believed to be female.

         ¶6 As Deputy Rivers arrived at the residential community where the home is located, he started looking for the truck. It was snowing, there were freezing temperatures, and the roads were icy. Upon spotting the truck, Deputy Rivers turned around so that he could get behind it. While he and other deputies were in pursuit, the truck started driving erratically and evading them. The truck then pulled over, only to take off again. The deputies temporarily lost sight of it, but located it shortly thereafter. They subsequently observed the truck crash through a private gate. They also saw what appeared to be a white bag fly out of the passenger window, which supported their belief that there was a passenger in the truck. The truck eventually stopped within a mile of the home and Allen was apprehended. There was no passenger in the truck.

         ¶7 Moments after Allen was detained, a nearby driver informed Deputy Rivers that she had just seen a white female in a white coat walking southbound, away from the location of the truck, trying to hitch a ride. Deputy Rivers then saw a white female wearing a white coat on foot within a couple of hundred yards of where the truck had stopped; there was no easy access by foot between the home and that area. Because Allen was being held in his patrol car, Deputy Rivers decided to contact the female on foot. However, a member of the narcotics team, Deputy Daly, beat him to the punch.

         ¶8 Deputy Daly did not testify at the hearing. However, Deputy Rivers was aware that Deputy Daly had been involved in this investigation, knew about the arrest warrants, and could recognize Threlkel. More importantly, by the time Deputy Rivers reached the female, Deputy Daly "had already visually identified her" as Threlkel. Deputy Daly temporarily detained Threlkel in order to confirm her arrest warrant. Once the warrant was verified, Threlkel was arrested.

         ¶9 Threlkel was subsequently charged with multiple drug-related offenses. Before trial, she filed three motions to suppress. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing during which the prosecution presented testimony from Deputy Rivers and Deputy Wood. Threlkel did not present any testimonial evidence.

         ¶10 The trial court found that both deputies were credible and that their testimony had no reliability issues. Yet, it ruled that the deputies violated Threlkel's rights under the Fourth Amendment because they lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain her. The trial court seemed troubled by the fact that Deputy Daly did not testify since he was the deputy "who [was] able to identify Ms. Threlkel as being the one the warrant was valid for." Notably, the trial court acknowledged Deputy Rivers's uncontroverted testimony that "Deputy Daly . . . knew that the white female that was pointed out by [the] unknown driver was Ms. Threlkel." But it nevertheless suppressed all evidence and observations derived from Threlkel's stop, including her statements, because it felt that there were important details missing in the testimony provided by Deputies Rivers and Wood.

         ¶11 At a later status hearing, the trial court clarified its ruling at the prosecution's request. It indicated that its suppression order went beyond the evidence and observations derived from Threlkel's stop-the order also included the deputies' observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel. According to the court, Threlkel was "not arrested at the scene" because "[t]here's no evidence to indicate that she was even there." Therefore, concluded the court, the prosecution would not be allowed to introduce evidence at trial that the deputies contacted Threlkel at all.

         ¶12 The prosecution then brought this interlocutory appeal.[2]

         II. ...


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