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People v. Gadberry

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

May 20, 2019

People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant
Amanda Eileen Gadberry. Defendant-Appellee

          Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court Mesa County District Court Case No. 17CR2426 Honorable Valerie J. Robison, Judge

          Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Daniel P. Rubinstein, District Attorney, Twenty-First Judicial District Brian Conklin, Deputy District Attorney Grand Junction, Colorado

          Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee: Megan Ring, Public Defender Kristin Westerhorstmann, Deputy Public Defender Grand Junction, Colorado


          HOOD JUSTICE

         ¶1 Marijuana isn't meth. But drug-detection dog Talu can't tell the difference. So when Talu alerted to the driver and passenger side doors of Amanda Gadberry's truck, the officers didn't know whether Talu had found marijuana, which is legal in some circumstances in Colorado, or meth, which never is. This quandary led us in People v. McKnight, a companion case also announced today, to hold that persons twenty-one years of age or older have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in Colorado, therefore requiring officers to have probable cause that an item or area contains a drug in violation of state law before they deploy a dog trained to alert to marijuana. See 2019 CO 36, ¶ 7, __ P.3d __. We see no difference between Gadberry's situation and McKnight's. Thus, Talu's wide-ranging, though outdated, training demanded probable cause before the drug-detection dog's deployment, just as it did in McKnight.

         ¶2 In this interlocutory appeal, we therefore hold that the officers needed probable cause to deploy Talu. They didn't have it. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's suppression order.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 While patrolling Mesa County, Deputy Stuckenschneider observed a black Dodge pickup driving with a missing front license plate. Stuckenschneider phoned Deputy Briggs, alerting her to the situation. But this wasn't just any vehicle with a missing front plate-a few days prior, Sergeant Beagley had stopped the same car for being incorrectly registered and for displaying invalid license plates. Briggs knew all of this when she received the alert from Stuckenschneider. With knowledge of the previous stop and Stuckenschneider's observation regarding the front plate, Briggs pulled the Dodge over. In the driver's seat, she found Gadberry.

         ¶4 Briggs informed Gadberry that she initiated the stop because of the missing front plate. Gadberry told Briggs that the car indeed had a front plate and, upon inspection, Briggs found the missing plate shoved into the grill of the Dodge, although the car was still improperly registered. While all of this was happening, Beagley, Handler Cheryl Yaws, and dog Talu, who is trained to alert to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, arrived on the scene. During the time that it took Briggs to run Gadberry's plates, Beagley asked Gadberry if there was any marijuana in the vehicle. She said no.

         ¶5 Shortly thereafter, Talu sniffed around the car and alerted to the driver and passenger doors. With the benefit of that alert, the officers conducted a search of the car, finding a cellophane wrapper of methamphetamine lodged inside a wallet. Gadberry was then charged with (1) display of a fictitious license plate, (2) possession of drug paraphernalia, and (3) possession of a controlled substance.

         ¶6 Gadberry moved to suppress the evidence on four grounds: (1) Briggs didn't have reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop; (2) the stop was unreasonably prolonged; (3) Talu's sniff was unlawful because Talu was trained to alert on both marijuana, a legal substance, and illegal substances, such as methamphetamine; and (4) Talu's sniff was unreliable. The trial court denied claims one and two. It held that the "fellow officer rule" imputed Stuckenschneider's knowledge of the missing front plate and improper registration to Briggs, therefore justifying the stop. Additionally, it found that the stop only lasted long enough for Briggs to obtain information, view the vehicle, and run the plates. As a result, the court concluded that the officers didn't unreasonably delay Gadberry.

         ¶7 The trial court did, however, grant Gadberry's motion to suppress based on claim three. It followed the court of appeals' decision in People v. McKnight, 2017 COA 93, __P.3d__, and found that a sniff is a search when a drug-detection dog can alert to both illegal and legal substances. Here, no one presented any evidence suggesting that the vehicle had any illegal substances in it or that Gadberry was aware of all the belongings in the car, especially since multiple people had driven the car in the few days before the stop. Therefore, the trial court reasoned that, under McKnight, the officers on the scene needed reasonable suspicion that Gadberry had been involved in criminal activity to initiate Talu's sniff. Because the officers here lacked reasonable suspicion to deploy Talu, the court granted the motion to suppress and didn't reach claim four.

         ¶8 The People filed the interlocutory appeal at issue here, raising the following question: Did the trial court err in finding that a free air sniff of the Defendant's vehicle by a dog trained in marijuana and illegal narcotics was a search, which required a showing of reasonable suspicion?

         II. ...

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