ORIGINAL PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI Karen L. Townsend, District
H. Balderas, Attorney General Marko David Hananel, Assistant
Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Petitioner
Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Mary Barket, Assistant
Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Respondent
BARBARA J. VIGIL, JUSTICE
With this opinion we revisit the circumstances under which an
officer may make a warrantless entry into a home under the
emergency assistance doctrine.Relying on cases interpreting the
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, this
Court held in Ryon that a warrantless entry is
reasonable under the emergency assistance doctrine when (1)
law enforcement officers "have reasonable grounds to
believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate
need for assistance for the protection of life or
property;" (2) the officers' primary motivation for
the search is a "strong sense of emergency" and not
"to arrest a suspect or to seize evidence[;]" and
(3) the officers have some reasonable basis, approximating
probable cause, to connect the emergency to the area to be
searched. See 2005-NMSC-005, ¶ 39.
Since Ryon was decided, the United States Supreme
Court has clarified that the emergency assistance doctrine
under the Fourth Amendment focuses on the objective
reasonableness of the officer's actions and does not
include a subjective component. See Brigham City v.
Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 404 (2006) ("The
officer's subjective motivation is irrelevant.").
Applying the interstitial approach, we hold that an
officer's subjective motivation remains relevant to the
reasonableness of a warrantless entry under Article II,
Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution. We further hold
that the officer's warrantless entry in this case was
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and Article II, Section
10. The Court of Appeals having concluded otherwise, we
reverse. In doing so, we reiterate our recent holding in
State v. Martinez that the presence of video
evidence in an appellate record does not affect the deference
due to a district court's factual findings at a
suppression hearing if those findings are supported by
substantial evidence. See 2018-NMSC-007,
¶¶ 18-19, 410 P.3d 186.
Defendant Nathaniel Yazzie entered a conditional plea of no
contest to the offense of attempt to commit negligent child
abuse following the district court's denial of his motion
to suppress. Defendant had moved to suppress all of the
evidence gathered after Officer William Temples of the
Farmington Police Department entered his unlocked apartment
without a warrant in response to a welfare check. Defendant
argued in his suppression motion that Officer Temples'
entry violated his right to privacy in his home under the
Fourth Amendment and Article II, Section 10. The State
responded that Officer Temples' entry was reasonable to
ensure the safety of those inside the apartment, thereby
making his actions constitutionally permissible under the
emergency assistance doctrine.
The district court held a hearing where it considered the
officer's testimony as well as the lapel video from the
night of the incident. The video was not played during the
hearing, but the district court reviewed it prior to issuing
its letter decision denying the motion to suppress. The
letter decision did not include formal, enumerated findings
of fact. On review, we will "draw from the record to
derive findings based on reasonable facts and
inferences." State v. Attaway, 1994-NMSC-011,
¶ 33, 117 N.M. 141, 870 P.2d 103. The record provides
the following facts.
Officer Temples was dispatched to Defendant's residence
to conduct a welfare check at 9:43 p.m. on December 5, 2013
after Defendant's downstairs neighbor had reported a loud
"thumping" sound coming from the apartment above.
Officer Temples testified that no one answered
Defendant's door after he loudly knocked and announced
himself as a police officer over the course of eight to ten
minutes. He told the district court that during that time,
the only response to his knocking was an infant crying
continuously and a young child "hollering, 'Mommy!
Mommy, wake up!'" Officer Temples described the
infant's cry as "a constant cry as if there was
nobody caring for the child." He further testified that
the doorknob rattled as though someone was trying, but
unable, to open the door from the inside.
Officer Temples explained at the hearing that these
observations led him to believe that someone in the apartment
was hurt or otherwise incapacitated, leaving the children
unattended. He said he thought the children's mother may
have required aid because "usually when a child . . .
asks their mommy to wake up several times, usually Mommy
wakes up when she's sober or uninjured." Officer
Temples testified that he opened the unlocked apartment door
to peer inside once he concluded that his assistance was
required within. When he did, he observed Defendant and an
adult woman lying on the floor of the apartment with two
children under six and an infant in the same room.
The lapel video shows Officer Temples knocking six times in
the span of roughly six minutes before opening the unlocked
apartment door. After his first knock, movement can be heard
within, the doorknob rattles, and a child can be heard
calling to his or her mother. Moments later, an infant begins
to fuss. Officer Temples knocks a second time and someone
again rattles the doorknob but gives no additional response.
After his fifth unanswered knock, Officer Temples announces
that he is an officer of the Farmington Police Department and
requests that someone come to the door. The fussing baby is
heard again, but no one responds to his request. Officer
Temples then says to himself, "Mom and Dad are obviously
passed out." At this point in the video, the baby's
crying increases in volume and tempo. A minute later Officer
Temples knocks a sixth time and announces himself again. When
he does not receive a response, Officer Temples opens the
unlocked door of the apartment. He knocks a seventh time
while standing in the doorway. About one minute later,
Officer Temples calls for a backup officer and a portable
breath test unit (PBT). He then fully enters the apartment,
approximately eight minutes after his first knock.
Officer Temples testified that once inside the apartment he
performed a sweep of the adjoining rooms of the apartment to
ensure officer safety, as well as to see if any other
individuals in the apartment required assistance. During the
sweep, Officer Temples observed empty alcohol bottles in the
kitchen at the top of an open trash can.
In the lapel video, Officer Temples performs a thirty-second
sweep of the apartment, shining his flashlight into each of
the rooms, including the kitchen. The lapel video shows that
after the requested backup officer arrives, the pair of
officers physically rouse the adults, question them, and
administer the breath tests. They do not call for a medical
response unit. Based on the results of the breath tests, they
arrest both adults. This sequence of events is reflected in
Officer Temples' arrest report. Defendant was later
charged with negligent child abuse contrary to NMSA 1978,
Section 30-6-1(D) (2009).
In denying Defendant's motion to suppress, the district
court concluded that the entry was justified under either the
community caretaking or emergency assistance doctrines,
citing Ryon. The district court explained that the
entry was permissible because Officer Temples based his
decision to enter on "what he was told and what he heard
and observed at the apartment," which gave him "a
reasonable concern that a medical emergency existed
warranting immediate entry." The district court also
concluded that the safety sweep was appropriate because
"[i]t was a very brief inspection and was supported by
what the officer observed upon entering the residence."
Finally, the district court found that Officer Temples'
"primary motivation was not criminal investigation but
to render aid or protection from harm."
Following the denial of his motion to suppress, Defendant
pleaded no contest to the lesser offense of attempt to commit
negligent child abuse, a fourth-degree felony in violation of
Section 30-6-1(D). He entered a conditional plea, reserving
his right to appeal the denial of the suppression motion.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court's denial
of the motion to suppress. State v. Yazzie, No. 34,
537, mem. op. ¶ 2 (N.M. Ct. App. May 11, 2017)
(non-precedential). The State petitioned for certiorari to
review the issue of whether Officer Temples' entry and
subsequent inspection were lawful under the emergency
assistance doctrine. See N.M. Const. art. VI, §
2; NMSA 1978, § 34-5-14(B) (1972); Rule 12-502 NMRA. We
granted certiorari and reverse.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
"Appellate review of a motion to suppress presents a
mixed question of law and fact. First, we look for
substantial evidence to support the [district] court's
factual finding, with deference to the district court's
review of the testimony and other evidence presented."
Martinez, 2018-NMSC-007, ¶ 8 (alteration in
original) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
"Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." In re Anhayla H., 2018-NMSC-033,
¶ 36, 421 P.3d 814 (quoting State ex rel. Children,
Youth & Families Dep't v. Patricia H.,
2002-NMCA-061, ¶ 22, 132 N.M. 299, 47 P.3d 859).
Contested facts are reviewed "in a manner most favorable
to the prevailing party." State v. Rowell,
2008-NMSC-041, ¶ 8, 144 N.M. 371, 188 P.3d 95. "We
then review the application of the law to those facts, making
a de novo determination of the constitutional reasonableness
of the search or seizure." Martinez,
2018-NMSC-007, ¶ 8 (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). "Although our inquiry is necessarily
fact-based it compels a careful balancing of constitutional
values, which extends beyond fact-finding, to shape the
parameters of police conduct by placing the constitutional
requirement of reasonableness in factual context."
Ryon, 2005-NMSC-005, ¶ 11 (omission omitted)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
After the Court of Appeals decided Yazzie, we
reaffirmed in Martinez that appellate courts must
afford a high degree of deference to the district court's
factual findings if supported by substantial evidence.
2018-NMSC-007, ¶¶ 3, 15. In particular, an
appellate court must presume that the district court credited
an officer's testimony, even if that testimony is not
perfectly aligned with video evidence. See id. When
video evidence conflicts with other evidence, an appellate