Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

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.

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

          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

          OPINION

          BERGER JUDGE

          ¶ 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 (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; 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]

         ¶ 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 suppress.[3]We also reject Harmon's other claims of error and affirm the judgment of conviction.

         I. Background

         ¶ 7 While on patrol, a police officer drove past a vehicle with a cracked windshield and a broken headlight. The officer followed the car and saw that it also had an expired license plate. The officer initiated a traffic stop, and the car stopped in or adjacent to an alley on the side of the roadway. During the stop, the officer recognized Harmon, who was one of the passengers, from previous law enforcement contacts involving illegal drugs. After collecting the driver's registration, license, and insurance information, the officer began filling out a citation. The officer simultaneously called for a canine unit to conduct a drug sniff of the exterior of the vehicle.

         ¶ 8 When the canine unit arrived, the officer directed the occupants of the car to get out of the vehicle while the dog performed the sniff. The passengers got out of the car and remained nearby. According to the officer, he directed Harmon to a spot five to ten feet behind the car. He stood with Harmon there, while the driver and a second passenger stood some distance away with the other officer.

         ¶ 9 The officer standing with Harmon "asked all [of the] occupants if they had any guns, knives, drugs, [or] drug paraphernalia on them." Because the officer had known Harmon to have needles on her person during their previous encounters, and in anticipation of asking for consent to search her, he specifically asked Harmon what was in her purse. She answered that she had a "hot rail tube," which she explained was an item used to snort methamphetamine.

         ¶ 10 Meanwhile, the dog alerted to the odor of a controlled substance in the vehicle, but a search of the vehicle turned up nothing. The traffic officer then searched Harmon's purse based on her admission about the hot rail tube. Inside her purse, the officer found the hot rail tube and a plastic container containing a Xanax pill and methamphetamine.

         ¶ 11 Before trial, Harmon sought to suppress the evidence found in her purse. She conceded that the traffic stop was lawful and that the officer was entitled to order her to get out of the vehicle. She asserted, however, that the patrol officer violated her constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure when he "separated her" from the other occupants of the car and asked her about the contents of her purse. In particular, she argued that these ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.