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Idaho Supreme Court: Where Police Were Unaware of Probationer’s Fourth Amendment Waiver Until After Unreasonable Search, Waiver Won’t Make Search Reasonable

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Idaho ruled that when police were unaware of a probationer’s Fourth Amendment waiver until after an unreasonable search was conducted, the police cannot rely on the waiver to sanction the otherwise unreasonable search. The Court also explained why the inevitable discovery doctrine does not apply.

Officer Kyle Ludwig was informed that drugs were used in an apartment “a day or two” earlier. When Ludwig knocked on the apartment’s door, he pushed it open. After pausing at the threshold, he entered the apartment and announced himself as a police officer. Ludwig found one of the doors in the apartment’s hallway locked. He knocked on the door, and Charles Maxim emerged after about 20 seconds. Ludwig instructed Maxim to put his hands on top of his head. After Maxim complied, Ludwig began a pat-search of Maxim and asked Maxim if he had anything illegal on him. Maxim replied that he had a knife in his right pocket. Ludwig turned out Maxim’s pocket, removed the knife, and placed it on a table. Ludwig then felt through the outturned pocket and removed a small silicon container that contained heroin.

The State charged Maxim with felony possession of a controlled substance, and Maxim filed a motion to suppress “all evidence obtained as the result of an illegal, warrantless entry into [his] residence and/or illegal pat-down.”

At the hearing on the motion, the State argued, inter alia: (1) that Maxim didn’t have “standing” to object to the searches because he was on probation which required a waiver of his Fourth Amendment rights and (2) that even if the search was unreasonable, the evidence shouldn’t be excluded because the police would have inevitably discovered it using proper procedures.

The district court ruled that the police would have inevitably discovered the evidence using proper procedures and denied the suppression motion. Maxim pleaded guilty to possession of heroin, reserving his right to appeal the denial of the suppression motion. He timely appealed.

The Idaho Supreme Court observed that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Historically and textually, a person’s home is the centerpiece of the Amendment’s protection. Collins v. Virginia, 138 S. Ct. 1663 (2018). A search conducted without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. Id. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement, one of which is when a probationer has given consent to searches as a condition of his probation. State v. Jaskowski, 409 P.3d 837 (Ida. 2018).

If a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred, the defendant may request the court to exclude the evidence. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961). This is known as the “exclusionary rule.” Its purpose is to deter police misconduct in violating the Fourth Amendment by removing any incentive to violate people’s rights protected by the Amendment. Id. But if the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence would have inevitably been discovered by lawful means apart from the unreasonable search, then there ultimately wouldn’t be any misconduct to deter, so the exclusionary rule doesn’t apply. Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984). The court is to consider the reasonableness of the police’s actions in light of all the circumstances of the particular governmental invasion of a citizen’s personal security. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

In the present case, the Court determined that the State’s argument that Maxim didn’t have “standing” to object to the searches was flawed. In order to have standing, Maxim merely needed to show his Fourth Amendment rights were violated, that is, he personally had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place searched. Byrd v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1518 (2018). Entry into his apartment, as well as the search of his person, gave him standing.

The Court then recast the State’s argument as one based on consent instead of standing. While Maxim did sign a waiver as a condition of his probation wherein he consented to such warrantless and suspicionless searches, Ludwig was not aware of this waiver at the time of the searches at issue. Thus, in light of the circumstances as they were known by Ludwig, he acted unreasonably when he entered Maxim’s apartment and when he searched Maxim. Terry.

The inevitable discovery doctrine presupposes parallel paths leading toward inevitable discovery of the evidence. For example, in Nix, the police elicited comments from the murder suspect in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Those comments led police to the victim’s body. But at the same time, other officers were conducting a lawful search of the area. At the suppression hearing, the government argued the body would have inevitably been discovered by the lawful search team without the unlawfully obtained statements. The United States Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the evidence would have inevitably been lawfully discovered, so the purpose of the exclusionary rule didn’t apply.

But in the instant case, there were no officers obtaining a valid warrant, much less any lawful search being conducted. Courts are not to speculate what officers may have done absent the unlawful conduct, but must look at what was done.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress, vacated the conviction, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion. See: State v. Maxim, 2019 Ida. LEXIS 216 (2019). 

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