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State v. Davis

Supreme Court of New Mexico

November 9, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Petitioner,
WESLEY DAVIS, Defendant-Respondent.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI Lisa B. Riley, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Jane A. Bernstein, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Petitioner

          Law Works, LLC John A. McCall Albuquerque, NM for Respondent


          JUDITH K. NAKAMURA, Chief Justice.

         {1} This case concerns the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement. The Court of Appeals concluded that the inventory search that occurred in this case was invalid because Defendant Wesley Davis did not possess the backpack searched at the time of arrest as the backpack was not "on his person or in his physical possession . . . ." State v. Davis, 2016-NMCA-073, ¶¶ 1, 10-11, 387 P.3d 274. We disagree that possession in the inventory search context should be so narrowly construed. We embrace a broader definition of possession, conclude that Davis did possess the backpack at the time of arrest, and hold that the inventory search was valid. The Court of Appeals is reversed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {2} On January 12, 2012, Deputy Daniel Vasquez of the Eddy County Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department) arrested Davis for operating a motorcycle when his license had been revoked. During the traffic stop, Deputy Vasquez searched Davis's backpack and discovered marijuana. Davis was charged with one count of distribution of marijuana, a violation of NMSA 1978, Section 30-31-22(A)(1)(a) (2011). Davis filed a motion to suppress the marijuana on December 18, 2012. A suppression hearing was held on April 10, 2013. At that hearing, Deputy Vasquez provided the following testimony.

         {3} While on patrol in a marked vehicle, Deputy Vasquez saw Davis on a motorcycle at a stop sign. Deputy Vasquez knew Davis did not have a valid driver's license and began to follow Davis. After traveling a short distance, Davis pulled into the driveway of his home. Davis's property is within the city limits of Carlsbad, New Mexico and there are other houses adjacent to Davis's property.

         {4} Davis parked his motorcycle, took off his backpack, and placed it on top of a car parked in Davis's open-air carport, a structure with a back wall but no front or side walls. Deputy Vasquez had parked in Davis's driveway behind Davis's motorcycle and the two men met in the driveway between the motorcycle and carport.

         {5} Deputy Vasquez asked Davis for his license and registration and then contacted dispatch and learned that Davis's license was in fact revoked with an arrest clause. Deputy Vasquez arrested Davis, patted him down, and asked Davis "if there was anything in the backpack that [he] needed to be aware about." Davis responded that there was marijuana in the backpack. Deputy Vasquez walked to the carport, seized the backpack, searched it, and discovered three plastic bags containing marijuana.

         {6} Deputy Vasquez asked Davis about the backpack because the backpack had been on Davis's person and there might have been valuables in the backpack. When asked if he thought the backpack was "secured, " Deputy Vasquez stated that an open-air carport is not a secure location to leave an unattended bag. During his testimony, Deputy Vasquez acknowledged that the backpack was not on Davis's person at the time of his arrest.

         {7} The Sheriff's Department has a policy that any belongings in a person's possession at the time of an arrest must be inventoried, regardless of whether or not they have value. Deputy Vasquez stated that "anything on your person is gonna' go with you when you're arrested." The Sheriff's Department's inventory search policy exists to ensure that the Sheriff's Department has adequate records, to protect the Sheriff's Department, and to ensure that an arrestee's property is protected. The policy does not differentiate between inventory searches occurring on private versus public property.

         {8} The district court found that Davis's backpack was not secure at the time of the arrest but was on top of a car in an open-air carport. The court explained that "[i]t would be very easy for somebody to walk by and grab a backpack from off of the top of a vehicle which is not a normal place for storing a backpack." The court concluded that Deputy Vasquez's warrantless search of Davis's backpack was a valid inventory search and denied the motion to suppress. Davis then entered into a conditional plea in which he agreed to plead guilty to the distribution charge but reserved his right to appeal the order denying his suppression motion. Davis, 2016-NMCA-073, ¶ 2.

         {9} The Court of Appeals reversed the district court's order, concluding that the warrantless search was not a valid inventory search. Id. ¶¶ 1, 17. We granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari-exercising our jurisdiction under Article VI, Section 3 of the New Mexico Constitution and NMSA 1978, Section 34-5-14(B) (1972)-to decide whether the warrantless search was a valid inventory search or not.

         II.DISCUS ...

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