Skip navigation
Prisoner Education Guide
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Idaho Supreme Court: Suspicionless Fishing Expeditions Not Tolerated

by David Reutter

The Idaho Supreme Court reversed a district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained in a suspicionless fishing expedition by the arresting officer.

Matthew Cohagan was on a street corner in Nampa, Idaho when Officers Curtis and Otto drove by. Curtis thought he resembled an individual who had an outstanding arrest warrant. By time the officers had returned to the area, Cohagan was inside a grocery store.

Otto entered the store and asked Cohagan for identification. He confirmed that Cohagan was not the individual they were seeking. Before leaving the store parking area, the officers were told to retrieve store video from an unrelated incident. Curtis then approached Cohagan and confirmed for himself upon visual inspection that Cohagan was not the person with the outstanding warrant.

Nevertheless, Curtis still asked Cohagan for his identification to run a warrant check. Cohagan asked if he could continue shopping while Curtis ran the warrant check; Curtis said that was fine. But when dispatch advised that Cohagan may have a warrant, Curtis put his hand on Cohagan’s shoulder and led him to the front of the store.

 Dispatch advised that Cohagan had outstanding warrants. He was placed under arrest, and a search incident to the arrest revealed a pipe that tested positive for meth. Cohagen was charged with possession. Cohagan filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized as a result of the arrest. The State conceded that he was illegally seized when Curtis took his license to run a warrant check but argued that discovery of the meth was sufficiently attenuated from the illegal seizure. The district court denied the motion, ruling that the outstanding warrants were an intervening circumstance that purged the taint of the illegal seizure. Cohagen appealed.

The dispositive issue on appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court was whether discovery of the active warrants sufficiently broke the causal chain between the unlawful stop and discovery of the evidence—attenuation.

An attenuation analysis involves three factors: (1) elapsed time between the misconduct and acquisition of evidence, (2) occurrence of intervening circumstances, and (3) flagrancy and purpose of the illegal law enforcement action. 

In evaluating “the elapsed time between the misconduct and the acquisition of the evidence,” the Court determined that mere minutes elapsed between the two events, which weighs in favor of suppression. The outstanding warrants weigh “strongly in favor of attenuation” since a valid warrant on its face is prima facie sufficient authority to arrest. Of the first two factors, one weighed in favor of suppression, while the other favored attenuation.

As to the third factor, the Court determined that the police actions were flagrant and merely “a suspicionless fishing expedition” in hopes of finding something. It was clear to both officers that Cohagen was not the individual Curtis initially thought, nor were there any indications at the time of the illegal seizure that Cohagen was engaged in illegal activity. The Court admonished: “Such purposeful conduct is simply untenable and is exactly the type of flagrantly unlawful conduct the Fourth Amendment is designed to protect against.”

The Court held “the discovery of the evidence was not sufficiently attenuated from the illegal stop as to break the causal chain between the unconstitutional stop and the discovery of the evidence.” It reversed the district court’s denial of Cohagan’s motion to suppress and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

The Idaho Supreme Court took the opportunity to clear apparent confusion within the law enforcement community about its decision in State v. Page, 103 P.3d 454 (Idaho 2004). The Court clarified that Page does not provide police with permission to engage in a “fishing expedition” if it proves successful, as some appear to have misinterpreted it. It instructed, “Today’s decision should remove any lingering doubt as to whether this Court will sanction the unjustified, suspicionless seizure of citizens.” Any similar conduct in the future will be characterized as “purposeful and flagrant” and thus almost certainly fail the three-factor attenuation test.

See: State v. Cohagan, 404 P.3d 661 (Idaho 2017). 

As a digital subscriber to Criminal Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

State v. Cohagan




 

Federal Prison Handbook

 

Prisoner Education Guide side

 

Advertise here