Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court Las Animas
County District Court Case No. 17CR193 Honorable Leslie J.
Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Henry L. Solano, District
Attorney, Third Judicial District Matthew P. Holmes, Deputy
District Attorney Trinidad, Colorado
Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee: Megan Ring, Public Defender
Dariel Weaver, Deputy Public Defender Trinidad, Colorado
The People brought this interlocutory appeal pursuant to
section 16-12-102(2), C.R.S. (2017), and C.A.R. 4.1, seeking
review of the trial court's order suppressing evidence of
two laser-sight rifles seized during a warrantless search of
defendant Michael Pappan's residence. We now reverse the
trial court's suppression order. We hold that the
officers' warrantless search was justified by exigent
circumstances. More specifically, we conclude: (1) that the
officers had an objectively reasonable basis to believe there
was an immediate need to protect their lives or safety, and
(2) that the manner and scope of the search was reasonable.
We further hold that the warrantless seizure of the
laser-sight rifles was justified by the plain view doctrine.
Facts and Procedural History
Around 6:40 in the evening, an individual called 911 to
report that he observed a man in the green house directly
across the street pointing a laser-sight rifle at him.
Apparently scared for his safety, after requesting
assistance, the 911 caller left his residence in his car and
parked nearby. Trinidad Police Department officers responded
to the call shortly thereafter. Officer De La Fuente, among
the first officers on scene, testified that she was familiar
with the neighborhood and was aware that the 911 report was
consistent with the types of crimes that are common in that
Upon arriving, the officers observed that a female standing
on the front porch of the green house avoided them by
immediately going inside the house and locking the screen
door behind her, despite their commands to stop and their
requests to talk to her. Officer De La Fuente followed her
and tugged on the screen door to open it; she then asked the
female to come outside and pulled her out to the porch. While
standing just inside the doorway, Officer De La Fuente
noticed a male, later identified as Pappan, running down the
stairs from the second floor; he was yelling as he asked
questions and made comments. The officer asked him to come
out to the porch as well, and he did so. Because he
disregarded another officer's commands while on the
porch, he was placed in handcuffs and detained. Based on
information the officers received from the female, they next
called out for a child to come out of the house. A child
exited, but only after multiple requests by the officers.
The atmosphere on the porch was chaotic. Further, none of the
parties the officers had contacted had the laser-sight rifle
referenced by the 911 caller, and the officers had not yet
identified a suspect or obtained reliable information about
whether there were other parties inside the
residence. Concerned for their safety, the officers
"cleared" the house for other occupants. They made
a peaceable entry into the house, albeit with their guns
drawn. Inside, in an upstairs room, they saw in plain view
and collected two laser-sight rifles. No other individuals
were found in the house.
Pappan was subsequently charged with felony menacing,
reckless endangerment, and disorderly conduct. Following a
pretrial hearing, the trial court granted Pappan's motion
to suppress evidence obtained during the search of his home,
finding that "it would have been better practice for the
police to obtain a search warrant." The People then
filed this interlocutory appeal.
Standard of Review
In reviewing an order addressing a motion to suppress
evidence, we defer to the factual findings made by the trial
court. People v. Funez-Paiagua, 2012 CO 37, ¶
6, 276 P.3d 576, 578. So long as the trial court's
factual findings are supported by competent evidence, we will
not disturb them. Id. However, our review of the
trial court's legal conclusions vis-à-vis the
constitutionality of the challenged search and seizure is de
novo. Id.; see also People v. Syrie, 101
P.3d 219, 222 (Colo. 2004) ("The legal conclusions of
the trial court are subject to de novo review and reversal
[is required] if the court applied an erroneous legal
standard or came to a conclusion of constitutional law that
is inconsistent with or unsupported by the factual
The People argue that the trial court erred in granting
Pappan's motion to suppress because the exigent
circumstances present, in conjunction with the plain view
doctrine, justified the officers' warrantless search and
seizure. We agree.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and
article II, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution prohibit
"all unreasonable searches and seizures."
Mendez v. People, 986 P.2d 275, 279 (Colo. 1999).
Although neither constitutional provision specifies when law
enforcement must obtain a warrant before conducting a search,
the United States Supreme Court has inferred from the text of
the Fourth Amendment that "a warrant must generally be
secured." Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459
(2011). It is now "a bedrock principle . . . that
'searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant
are presumptively unreasonable.'" People v.
Brunsting, 2013 CO 55, ¶ 18, 307 P.3d 1073, 1078
(quoting King, 563 U.S. at 459). But this
presumption may be overcome in some situations. Id.
at ¶ 19, 307 P.3d at 1078-79. Because the "ultimate
touchstone" of search and seizure jurisprudence is
reasonableness, there are certain exceptions to the warrant
requirement. King, 563 U.S. at 459 (quoting
Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006)).
When police officers conduct a warrantless search, the People
bear the burden of establishing that the search "is
supported by probable cause and is justified under one of the
narrowly defined exceptions to the warrant requirement."
People v. Winpigler, 8 P.3d 439, 443 (Colo. 1999).
Pappan concedes that the People made "a clear showing of
probable cause," and the record shows that the officers
had probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed
and that evidence of that crime, namely a laser-sight rifle,
would be located in his residence. The parties disagree,
however, on whether the People met their burden of
demonstrating both that the exigent circumstances exception
justified the warrantless search of Pappan's residence,
and that the plain view exception justified the warrantless
seizure of the two laser-sight rifles.
We have repeatedly acknowledged that there is an exception to
the warrant requirement "when exigent circumstances
exist that necessitate immediate police action."
Id.; see also Brunsting, ¶ 25, 307
P.3d at 1079 (when exigent circumstances are present,
"the public's interest in a timely police response .
. . outweighs the individual's privacy interests.").
In Brunsting, we held that "officer safety
concerns fall within the exigent circumstances exception when
(1) the officers have an objectively reasonable basis to
believe there is an immediate need to protect the lives or
safety of themselves or others, and (2) the manner and scope
of the search is reasonable." Brunsting, ¶
32, 307 P.3d at 1081. In applying the first part of this
test, we considered "the totality of the circumstances .
. . 'as they would have appeared to a prudent and trained
police officer at the time of the challenged
entry.'" Id. at ¶ 33, 307 P.3d at 1081
(quoting Winpigler, 8 P.3d at 446). The second part
of the test required us to focus on the totality of the
circumstances surrounding the search actually conducted.
Id. at ¶ 39, 307 P.3d at 1082.
Another well-established exception to the warrant requirement
is the plain view doctrine, which provides that police
officers "are not required to close their eyes to any
evidence that they plainly see while conducting otherwise
legitimate searches." People v. Gothard, 185
P.3d 180, 183 (Colo. 2008) (quoting People v. Pitts,
13 P.3d 1218, 1222 (Colo. 2000)). There are three
requirements to the plain view doctrine: (1) the intrusion
must have been legitimate; (2) the officers must have had a
reasonable belief that the evidence seized was incriminating;
and (3) the officers must have had a lawful right of access
to the evidence. Id. The first prong is met when
probable cause and exigent circumstances justify the
officers' presence. Id. at 183-84. "The
second prong exists when police have probable cause to
believe the evidence is incriminating, and the incriminating
nature is immediately apparent" to the officers.
Id. at 184. "As with other exceptions to the
warrant requirement, the exigent circumstances exception may
combine with the plain view doctrine to justify a warrantless
search and seizure." People v. Kluhsman, 980
P.2d 529, 535 (Colo. 1999).
Exigent Circumstances Exception
Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, we conclude
that when the officers entered Pappan's residence, they
had an objectively reasonable basis to believe there was an
immediate need to protect their lives or safety. We further
conclude that the evidence introduced at the hearing
established that the manner and scope of the warrantless
search was reasonable. Therefore, we hold that the People
satisfied Brunsting's two-part test for
application of the exigent circumstances exception when
officer safety concerns are implicated.
The Officers Had an Objectively Reasonable Basis to Believe
There Was an Immediate Need to Protect Their Lives or
In determining that the officers had an objectively
reasonable basis to believe there was an immediate need to
protect their lives or safety, we consider the totality of
the circumstances. However, we view the circumstances as a
prudent and trained officer would have at the time of the
It was close to night time when the officers responded to
Pappan's house pursuant to a 911 call. A man in
Pappan's residence had reportedly pointed a laser- sight
rifle at the neighbor who lived in the house across the
street. The neighbor was sufficiently concerned for his
safety that after calling 911 he drove away from his
residence in his car and parked nearby. The officers were
aware that the 911 report was consistent with the types of
crimes that are common in that area.
The first person the officers encountered, a female on the
front porch of Pappan's house, immediately avoided them
by going inside the house and locking the screen door behind
her, despite their commands to stop and their requests to
talk to her. Officer De La Fuente had to yank the screen door
open and pull her out to get her on the porch. Moments later,
Officer De La Fuente saw Pappan running down the stairs from
the second floor of the residence and heard that he was
yelling. Although he complied with her request to come out to
the porch, he subsequently disregarded another officer's
commands. As a result, the officers placed him in handcuffs
and detained him. The ...