Larimer County District Court No. 14CR1120 Honorable Gregory
M. Lammons, Judge
J. Weiser, Attorney General, Frank R. Lawson, Assistant
Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee
Matthew Fredrickson, Alternate Defense Counsel, Lakewood,
Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant
1 Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworkers entered the
home of defendant, Leah Sue Dyer, without a warrant. We hold,
as an issue of first impression in Colorado, that DHS
caseworkers are subject to the Fourth Amendment. We further
hold that the caseworkers' warrantless entry in this case
was illegal, and therefore the trial court was required to
suppress all evidence obtained as a direct result. Because
the trial court failed to suppress this evidence, we reverse
Dyer's conviction of first degree child abuse resulting
in serious bodily injury and remand for a new trial.
2 Dyer's mother called the DHS and alleged that Dyer was
neglecting her seven-year-old daughter, S.D., who suffered
from a seizure disorder. DHS caseworkers tried to contact
Dyer and her daughter at their home but were unsuccessful.
The caseworkers then sought and received an order to
investigate under section 19-3-308(3)(b), C.R.S. 2019. They
did not obtain a search warrant under section 19-1-112(1),
3 Over the next several days, the caseworkers, accompanied by
police officers, repeatedly tried to contact Dyer and her
daughter at their home, again without success. On the third
day, police officers went to Dyer's home without the
caseworkers. They knocked on the door and Dyer answered. The
officers informed Dyer of the order to investigate. Though
the order did not authorize their entry without Dyer's
consent, they told her that they needed to come inside to
check on S.D. When her initial objections did not cause law
enforcement to leave, Dyer eventually stepped aside and the
officers entered the home.
4 Once inside, the officers inspected the home, spoke to both
Dyer and her husband, and contacted the caseworkers to let
them know that they had gained entry to the home. The
officers also observed S.D. experience what appeared to be a
seizure and requested an ambulance.
5 After the apparent seizure ended, the caseworkers and
paramedics arrived at and entered the home. The caseworkers
inspected the home and talked to Dyer and her husband while
the paramedics tended to S.D. Without Dyer's or her
husband's permission, the paramedics loaded S.D. into an
ambulance and took her to the hospital. Dyer requested but
was not permitted to ride in the ambulance with her daughter,
so she and her husband drove themselves. The caseworkers and
police officers also drove to the hospital.
6 At the hospital, S.D. was taken to the emergency
department, and Dyer was again denied access to her. Before
she was allowed to see her daughter,  a police officer asked Dyer
if she would participate in an interview. Dyer agreed to the
interview, and it was conducted by a police officer and a
caseworker in a makeshift private room at the hospital.
Months later, Dyer gave another statement to police about
many of the same topics covered in the hospital interview.
7 The prosecution charged Dyer and her husband with child
abuse and, over Dyer's objection, jointly tried them. The
prosecution alleged that Dyer and her husband had engaged in
a pattern of conduct that allowed S.D.'s condition to
deteriorate to a point where she was severely underweight,
had stopped talking and feeding herself, and was unable to go
to the bathroom by herself.
8 Before trial, Dyer moved to suppress much of the evidence
obtained by police, caseworkers, and paramedics on the day
they came to her home and took S.D. to the hospital. Dyer
argued that the officers, caseworkers, and paramedics had
entered her home illegally. She sought to suppress all
evidence obtained as a direct result of that illegal entry.
Alternatively, she argued that all of her statements to
officers, caseworkers, and doctors that day should be
suppressed because they were unwarned custodial statements
obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436 (1966), and were also involuntary.
9 The trial court ruled that the officers' initial entry
into Dyer's home was illegal and therefore suppressed the
officers' observations from inside the home. The court
next found, however, that the caseworkers' and
paramedics' entries were legal and admitted their
observations from inside the home. The court also admitted
Dyer's interview with the officer and caseworker at the
hospital, as well as her later police interview, holding that
these statements were noncustodial and voluntary.
10 The jury found Dyer guilty of child abuse. The trial court
entered a judgment of conviction and sentenced her to fifteen
years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.
11 Dyer appeals. She argues that the trial court erred by (1)
failing to suppress the caseworkers' and paramedics'
observations from inside her home, and her interview at the
hospital; (2) denying her motion to sever her case from her
husband's; (3) failing to give several jury instructions;
and (4) admitting other evidence.
12 We agree with Dyer's first contention that the trial
court erred by failing to suppress the caseworkers' and
paramedics' observations from inside her home and the
statement she gave at the hospital to the authorities. We
also conclude that this error requires reversal. We therefore
address her additional alleged errors only to the extent that
they are likely to recur on retrial. II. Officers' and
Caseworkers' Illegal Entries Require Reversal
13 Dyer argues that the trial court erred by failing to
suppress the caseworkers' and paramedics'
observations from inside her home and the statements she made
at the hospital. We agree.
14 Reviewing a trial court's suppression ruling presents
a mixed question of fact and law. See People v.
Hyde, 2017 CO 24, ¶ 9. We defer to the trial
court's factual findings if they are supported by the
record and review the court's legal conclusions de novo.
15 The Fourth Amendment provides that individuals shall be
free from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const.
amend. IV. A warrantless search of a person's home is
presumptively unreasonable and therefore illegal. See
People v. Fuerst, 2013 CO 28, ¶ 11. The prosecution
can overcome this presumption only by establishing that the
search falls within a recognized exception to the warrant
16 Although the Fourth Amendment outlaws unreasonable
searches and seizures, nothing in the text of the Fourth
Amendment requires suppression of illegally obtained
evidence. Instead, the exclusionary rule, a judicially
created evidentiary rule, gives effect to the Fourth
Amendment by requiring suppression of any evidence obtained
as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure. See
People v. Kazmierski, 25 P.3d 1207, 1213 (Colo. 2001);
People v. Rodriguez, 945 P.2d 1351, 1363 (Colo.
1997). Whether evidence was obtained as a direct result of an
illegal search or seizure depends on whether the evidence was
obtained by exploiting the illegality or instead by
"means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the
primary taint" of the illegality. Rodriguez,
945 P.2d at 1363-64 (quoting Wong Sun v. United
States, 371 U.S. 471, 488 (1963)).
17 If a trial court erroneously admits evidence in violation
of the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule, we must
reverse unless the error was harmless beyond a reasonable
doubt. See People v. Morehead, 2015 COA 131, ¶
34, aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other
grounds, 2019 CO 48. This standard compels the
prosecution to prove that the error does not require
reversal. Id. at ¶ 35.
Caseworkers' Entry into Dyer's House Was Illegal
18 Neither party disputes that the officers' entry was
illegal because it was warrantless and without consent. The
caseworkers' entry was also warrantless and without
consent. Despite this fact, the trial court ruled that the
caseworkers' entry was legal because they were not acting
as agents of the police. This ruling was error.
19 Whether the caseworkers were acting as agents of the
police is irrelevant for Fourth Amendment purposes. Even if
they were not acting as agents of the police, the caseworkers
were governmental officials and ...