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Idaho Supreme Court Declares Clarke Merely Memorialized Constitutional Principle That Warrantless Arrest for Misdemeanor Completed Outside Officer’s Presence Violates State Constitution and Applies to Cases Prior to Clarke

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Idaho vacated Patricia Ann Amstutz’s conviction for misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”) because her alleged offense was completed outside the arresting officer’s presence.

Officer Kale White was dispatched to the address of Amstutz after someone reported Amstutz for drunk driving. White remained in his vehicle outside Amstutz’s residence, waiting for a cover officer to arrive. While waiting, White ran a “driver return” on the vehicle registered to Amstutz. The driver return was transmitted to White by dispatch and displayed on the computer screen in his vehicle. The driver return displayed a photograph of Amstutz; her height, weight, and physical description; traffic infractions; and prior DUI convictions (including the dates of those convictions—2010 and 2016). White testified at a subsequent suppression hearing that he did not recall whether he looked at the dates of the prior convictions before making contact with Amstutz.

Another officer arrived, and the two officers knocked on Amstutz’s door. She opened the door, and White explained the purpose of the contact. She invited the officers inside. White conducted a DUI investigation and determined he had probable cause to arrest Amstutz based upon the information from the reporting party; his own observations of her slurred speech, impaired memory, and the smell of alcohol on her breath; her admission she had consumed two cans of beer; and her refusal to perform field sobriety tests. White told Amstutz she was being arrested for “driving under the influence” but did not specify whether it was a “felony” or a “misdemeanor.”

White transported Amstutz to the Sandpoint Police Department (“SPD”) where he administered a breath test that showed a blood alcohol content of .230. White later testified at the suppression hearing that while at the SPD he explained to Amstutz the bond amounts for misdemeanor DUI because “he wasn’t sure if it was a felony.” White transported Amstutz to the Bonner County Jail. Before exiting his patrol car, White looked at the driver report again and observed the dates of the previous DUI convictions. About an hour elapsed from his initial contact with her and him verifying this was her third DUI, meaning it was a felony. He booked her into jail on a felony DUI charge.

It was undisputed that White did not see Amstutz driving or in her car prior to arrest; that he first made contact when she opened the door of her home; and that he did not obtain an arrest warrant.

The State charged Amstutz with felony DUI. She moved to suppress the evidence, arguing her warrantless arrest for a misdemeanor completed outside police presence was unlawful and in violation of State v. Clarke, 446 P.3d 451 (Idaho 2019) (state Constitution prohibits warrantless arrests for completed misdemeanors). The district court denied her motion. Amstutz pleaded guilty conditioned on her right to appeal the district court’s denial of her motion to suppress.

The Idaho Supreme Court observed that the Clarke Court held “the Framers of the Idaho Constitution understood that Article I, section 17 prohibited warrantless arrests for completed misdemeanors.” The Clarke Court held that a defendant’s arrest for misdemeanor battery was unlawful even though it was supported by probable cause because it occurred outside the officer’s presence. The Clarke Court further held that the district court should have suppressed the contraband obtained in a search incident to the arrest as fruit of the poisonous tree. Id. Therefore, it had vacated Clarke’s conviction.

Before turning to the present case, the Court declared that Clarke didn’t state new law, explaining it simply memorialized what had always been the law since the inception of the state Constitution. As such, Clarke applies to cases that preceded it like the present case in which Amstutz’s arrest took place over four months before Clarke was issued.

The Court explained that White must have had probable cause to believe Amstutz committed felony DUI at the time he arrested her; otherwise, the warrantless arrest was unlawful under Clarke. But the Court noted that according to his own statements he wasn’t aware of whether Amstutz had two prior DUI’s within the past 10 years, making this third one a felony, at the time he arrested her because he testified at the suppression hearing that he couldn’t recall if he looked at the dates of her two prior DUIs before making contact with her. The Court stated that an “officer’s subsequent discovery of facts that would have permitted a felony arrest in the first instance cannot retroactively justify the initial arrest.”

The Court stated that White didn’t have reasonable grounds to believe Amstutz committed felony DUI at the time he placed her under arrest. Since he arrested her without a warrant for a completed misdemeanor outside of his presence, the Court ruled that White violated her (state) constitutional rights under Clarke, explaining that he “lacked probable cause that the offense would ultimately be charged as a felony.” Thus, the Court held the district court erred when it denied Amstutz’s suppression motion.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court, vacated her judgment of conviction, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: State v. Amstutz, 492 P.3d 1103 (Idaho 2021). 

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Related legal case

State v. Amstutz

 

 

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