12/28/2009Utah Appeals Court: No Hiding in Bed From a DUI
Utah Court of Appeals rules against a man who attempted to hide from a driving under the influence charge by jumping into bed.
The Utah Court of Appeals on Christmas Eve ruled against a driver who attempted to hide from a drunk driving charge by jumping into bed. A three-judge panel examined evidence from an incident that began December 12, 2007 at around 3:50am. A security guard at the Deer Valley ski resort came upon a man who had crashed a white Subaru into a snow bank. The guard offered assistance and called 911 after realizing the driver was intoxicated. Realizing what was about to happen, the disabled car's driver walked unsteadily into the garage of a nearby condominium complex.
Officer Vaifoa Lealaitafea arrived on the scene within eight minutes, and the guard pointed out where the driver had walked. Lealaitafea followed fresh footprints in the snow to the condo belonging to Travis James Perkins, 24. Lealaitafea walked onto the condo's patio, looked inside, banged on the sliding glass door and commanded, "Hey, let me talk to you." Perkins allowed the officer into his condo, admitting that his Subaru had been stuck in a snowbank. Lealaitafea noted that Perkins appeared drunk and arrested him after the guard confirmed his identity.
Perkins argued that his arrest was unlawful because the police officer entered his patio without a warrant, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The appellate panel disagreed, finding first that the security guard's tip would have been enough to generate a reasonable suspicion that Perkins had been driving while drunk. This would have been enough had the officer arrived before Perkins had reached his condo.
"Our case is complicated, however, by Perkins's retreat into his home," Judge Carolyn B. McHugh explained. "Contrary to the state's argument, Officer Lealaitafea could not lawfully seize Perkins from within his home on the basis of reasonable suspicion alone."
The court went on to dismiss the notion that a warrant was needed to enter the patio area, declaring that the area was not part of the "curtilage" of the home protected by the Fourth Amendment. The court instead declared that the concrete area directly connected to the condo unit was effectively a public area because, even though the unit was on a hill and protected from public view, his neighbors had access to it. As a public space, anyone would be free to stand on the patio and peer into the condo unit.
Because Perkins did not refuse Lealaitafea's demand to enter the condo, he had no further standing to challenge his detention and arrest.
"Although Officer Lealaitafea observed Perkins trying to conceal himself behind the bed while wearing only his boxer shorts and shirt, Officer Lealaitafea could still request that Perkins talk to him without turning the encounter into a seizure," McHugh wrote. "Officer Lealaitafea had reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain Perkins and did not need a warrant to enter the patio because it was not protected curtilage of the home. Although Officer Lealaitafea could not seize Perkins against his will from within his home without a warrant, Perkins voluntarily consented to Officer Lealaitafea's request to talk and to Officer Lealaitafea's subsequent request to enter the condominium. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress and affirm Perkins's conviction."
A copy of the decision is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.