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People v. Harmon

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Sixth Division

October 17, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Sarah Jean Harmon, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 619

          Mesa County District Court No. 16CR6299. Honorable Valerie J. Robison, Judge.

         COUNSEL:

         Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Gabriel P. Olivares, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Megan A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Jacob B. McMahon, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Welling and Martinez[*] , JJ., concur.

          OPINION

          BERGER, JUDGE.

Page 620

         [¶1] Is a passenger in a vehicle that is lawfully stopped for a traffic infraction seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment ?

          [¶2]In People v. Fines, 127 P.3d 79, 81 (Colo. 2006), and People v. Jackson, 39 P.3d 1174, 1185 (Colo. 2002), the Colorado Supreme Court held that such a passenger is not seized when the vehicle is lawfully stopped. But after these opinions were announced, the United States Supreme Court reached a different conclusion. In Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 263, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L.Ed.2d 132 (2007), the Supreme Court held that a passenger in a car is " seized from the moment [the] car c[o]me[s] to a halt on the side of the road."

          [¶3] The Colorado Supreme Court has recognized that Brendlin overruled or abrogated the contrary Fourth Amendment holding in Jackson but has not explicitly done the same with respect to Fines . Tate v. People, 2012 CO 75, ¶ 8, 290 P.3d 1268; People v. Marujo, 192 P.3d 1003, 1006 (Colo. 2008). We conclude that Brendlin also abrogated the contrary holding in Fines, as Fines is expressly predicated on Jackson .[1]

          [¶4] The continued viability of Fines matters in this case because defendant, Sarah Jean Harmon, was a passenger in a vehicle that was lawfully stopped by the police. Under the Supreme Court's holding in Brendlin, because the traffic stop was lawful, Harmon was seized " from the moment [the] car came to a halt." 551 U.S. at 263. Because it is uncontested that the stop was lawful under the Fourth Amendment, there was no basis to suppress the fruits of the seizure unless some other unconstitutional seizure was effected by the police.[2]

Page 621

          [¶5] Recognizing this problem, Harmon contends that when the police directed her to a spot away from the car, separating her from the driver and the other passenger, a separate Fourth Amendment seizure occurred. She argues that because that seizure was supported by neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion, all fruits of that seizure must be suppressed.

          [¶6] We reject Harmon's argument not because it is legally unsound under the facts she posits, but because those alleged facts are not supported by the record. Because there was no separate seizure, there was no basis to suppress the fruits of the seizure, and the trial court correctly denied Harmon's motion to ...


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