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Williams v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

December 23, 2019

Kirk Thomas Williams, Petitioner
v.
The People of the State of Colorado. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 14CA1547

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender Andrea R. Gammell, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General Rebecca A. Adams, Senior Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          SAMOUR JUSTICE

         ¶1 It is axiomatic that consent by someone who possesses common authority over jointly occupied premises generally suffices to justify a warrantless search.[1]But in Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), the Supreme Court carved out a narrow exception to this rule: Consent by one resident is insufficient when another resident is physically present and objects to the search.[2] Id. at 122-23. The Court in Randolph drew a fine line for the sake of clarity, practicality, and administrability: If a resident is present at the threshold of the premises and objects as officers propose to conduct a search, a co-occupant's consent does not suffice; however, if the objecting resident does not take part in the threshold colloquy between the officers and his co-occupant, he "loses out." Id. at 121. Adhering to this deliberately formalistic rule, in Fernandez v. California, 571 U.S. 292 (2014), the Court declined to apply the Randolph exception where the defendant was initially present and objected to the police entering his apartment but neither was present nor objected approximately an hour later when his co-occupant consented to a search. Id. at 294-96.

         ¶2 This case is the flip side of the Fernandez coin. Whereas Fernandez dealt with a defendant who objected before his co-occupant and officers engaged in the colloquy regarding consent, we deal here with a defendant who did not object until after his co-occupant had already provided officers consent and they were inside his residence.

         ¶3 We reach the same result the Court did in Fernandez and conclude that the Randolph exception does not apply and that the police officers who entered Kirk Thomas Williams's home did not violate his rights under the Fourth Amendment. Leonora Williams, Mr. Williams's wife, provided the officers consent and permitted them to enter so that they could take possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia she had found in his travel bag and concealed in the garage. Although Mr. Williams was physically present on the premises, he did not object as his wife allowed the officers inside. His subsequent objection, after the officers had already entered his home and were in the process of taking possession of the drugs and paraphernalia, could not vitiate her previously given consent. Therefore, the officers were not required to heed his request to leave.

         ¶4 The court of appeals correctly upheld the district court's ruling denying Mr. Williams's motion to suppress the evidence collected inside his home. But it did so for different reasons than those we articulate in this opinion. Therefore, we affirm its judgment on other grounds.

         I

         ¶5 After Mr. Williams returned home from a trip to North Dakota, his wife went through his overnight travel bag and discovered what she believed to be drugs and paraphernalia. She took the contraband items, placed them inside a soap dish, and hid the soap dish in the garage of their home. Mrs. Williams later called the Fort Collins Police Department and met with one of its officers, Officer Thomas Colvin, at her church. She told him that she wanted the police to collect the drugs and paraphernalia she had taken from her husband's travel bag and stored in the garage. Officer Colvin requested assistance, and Officers Jesse Reed and Stephan Sparacio responded. The three officers then accompanied Mrs. Williams home.

         ¶6 Upon arriving home, Mrs. Williams provided consent and allowed the officers to enter so they could take possession of the drugs and paraphernalia. At Mrs. Williams's request, Officer Reed followed her through the house to the garage. There, Mrs. Williams retrieved the soap dish she had stashed away and handed it to him. Meanwhile, Officer Colvin continued walking down the entrance hallway for about ten feet, at which point he saw the kitchen, the living room, and an open space dividing the two. He headed toward the living room because he saw Mr. Williams there, sitting on a couch, eating a bowl of cereal, and watching television.

         ¶7 Officer Colvin viewed his job as keeping the peace between Mr. and Mrs. Williams. Similarly, Officer Sparacio focused on making sure the situation remained calm and safe. The officers were concerned because Mr. and Mrs. Williams were both home and there seemed to be some conflict between them.

         ¶8 When Officer Colvin entered the living room, he advised Mr. Williams that officers were conducting a "civil standby" and told him to remain seated.[3] At some point, Mr. Williams told the officers to leave his home.

         ¶9 Shortly after Officers Colvin and Sparacio contacted Mr. Williams, Mrs. Williams and Officer Reed returned from the garage. Officer Reed handed Officer Colvin the soap dish Mrs. Williams had retrieved. Upon opening it, Officer Colvin discovered it contained methamphetamine and a glass pipe. The officers arrested Mr. Williams, removed him from the residence, and placed him in a patrol car. Officer Colvin estimated that "within five minutes, things were pretty much done."

         ¶10 Following a pretrial suppression hearing, the district court issued a written order denying Mr. Williams's request to exclude the methamphetamine and the pipe from the trial. A jury subsequently found Mr. Williams guilty of possession of more than two grams of methamphetamine, a level 4 drug felony. The district court then sentenced Mr. Williams to one year in community corrections. Mr. Williams appealed, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed.

         ¶11 As relevant here, a majority of the division agreed with the district court's determination that the search that yielded the methamphetamine and the pipe was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because Mrs. Williams had a legitimate interest in removing the contraband from her home, acted on her own initiative and not as an agent of the state, and the officers' actions did not exceed the scope of her private search. People v. Williams, No. 14CA1547, ¶¶ 15-16 (Jan. 5, 2017). The division majority felt it was unclear whether the exception in Randolph applied because Mr. Williams asked the officers to leave after they were already inside the house pursuant to his wife's consent. Id. at ¶ 17. But since it concluded that the officers entered the residence with Mrs. Williams's consent, did not conduct a search inside the house, and the methamphetamine and the pipe were fruits of Mrs. Williams's private search and not subject to the exclusionary rule, it reasoned that it did not have to resolve the Randolph question. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. Writing separately, Judge Berger expressed concern about the soundness of the majority's analysis but nevertheless concurred in the judgment. Id. at ¶ 25 (Berger, J., specially concurring).

         ¶12 Mr. Williams then filed a petition for certiorari review, and we granted the petition in part.[4]

         II

         ¶13 Before us, Mr. Williams advances three contentions: (1) the division erred in holding that no search implicating the Fourth Amendment occurred; (2) under Randolph, his objection was dispositive as to him, regardless of his wife's consent, and therefore the officers were not authorized to remain in his residence when he asked them to leave; and (3) the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply.[5] We decline to address the first assertion because we conclude that, even if a search implicating the Fourth Amendment occurred, under Randolph and Fernandez, the officers were justified in remaining in the Williams residence after Mr. Williams asked them to leave. And, because we find that the officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment, we need not resolve Mr. Williams's inevitable-discovery assertion either. Hence, we limit our discussion to the applicability of the Randolph exception.

         A

         ¶14 Our review of a district court's suppression order presents "a mixed question of law and fact." People v. Allen, 2019 CO 88, ¶ 13, 450 P.3d 724, 728 (quoting People v. Threlkel, 2019 CO 18, ¶ 15, 438 P.3d 722, 727). We defer to the district court's findings of fact "and do not disturb them if they are supported by competent evidence in the record." Id. But we review de novo the district court's ...


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