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State v. Edwards

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

August 22, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DIMITRICE EDWARDS, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF CURRY COUNTY Matthew E. Chandler, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Santa Fe, NM Lauren J. Wolongevicz, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender John Bennett, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant



         {¶1} Defendant Dimitrice Edwards conditionally pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance, in violation of NMSA 1978, Section 30-31-23(E) (2011), and was sentenced to eighteen months of supervised probation. Having reserved the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress, Defendant now argues that his constitutional rights were violated based upon an absence of reasonable suspicion underlying the arresting officer's Terry stop. Applying the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056 (2016), we conclude that Defendant's preexisting, independent, valid arrest warrant was an intervening cause that attenuated any otherwise unlawful seizure of Defendant or evidence from his person during a search incident to arrest. We therefore affirm the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress.


         {¶2} Clovis Police Department Officer Christian Townsend was on patrol at approximately 3:00 a.m. when he heard over his police radio that "shots had been fired" at 2221 Llano Estacado, an event venue. Upon learning that a Curry County Sheriffs deputy was already at the scene and requesting assistance from other law enforcement officers, Officer Townsend rushed to the location with his patrol unit's emergency lights and siren on, unaware if a shooter was present at the scene. Upon arrival, he saw "people leaving the scene" and decided to position his vehicle to "block[] the eastbound lanes of Llano Estacado [to prevent] traffic from moving." Officer Townsend observed there to be "approximately fifty people" in the roadway, in vehicles, and in the parking lot.

         {¶3} In order of proximity to him, Officer Townsend approached "the vehicles and [asked occupants] what they had seen or heard, [their] names or phone numbers or other basic information" and then, one by one, allowed them to leave. Defendant was a passenger in the rear seat of the third or fourth vehicle Officer Townsend approached. When questioned by Officer Townsend, the vehicle occupants collectively responded that none had "seen or heard anything," which was contrary to Officer Townsend's interviews with people in preceding vehicles. Also, the vehicle occupants claimed that they came to "pick somebody up," but had not yet done so, though all five seats in the vehicle were already occupied.

         {¶4} Suspicious, Officer Townsend began what he described as an "investigative detention," requesting identification from each person, including Defendant, who either handed Officer Townsend identification or provided his name and date of birth. Officer Townsend quickly discovered that Defendant had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, arrested Defendant, and when Defendant was later searched incident to his arrest, narcotics were found on his person. Defendant appeals his conviction and sentence associated therewith.


         {¶5} "Appellate review of a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact." State v. Yazzie, 2019-NMSC-008, ¶ 13, 437 P.3d 182 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). First, we review the district court's factual determinations for substantial evidence, and then review the district court's application of the law to those facts de novo. State v. Tapia, 2018-NMSC-017, ¶ 10, 414 P.3d 332. Defendant has not argued on appeal that "the New Mexico Constitution affords him greater protection than that afforded under the United States Constitution[, ]" and we review his claim only under the Fourth Amendment. State v. Jason L., 2000-NMSC-018, ¶ 9, 129 N.M. 119, 2 P.3d 856.

         {¶6} Assuming without deciding the merit of Defendant's challenges to the existence of reasonable suspicion related to the on-scene deputy's law enforcement bulletin and Officer Townsend's ensuing detention, identification, and arrest of Defendant, we turn directly to the issue upon which we affirm. See State v. Gonzales, 201 l-NMCA-007, ¶ 13, 149 N.M. 226, 247 P.3d 1111 ("Even if we were to assume without deciding that [the federal statute at issue] was violated in this case, [the defendant... is not entitled to exclusion of the evidence."). That is, we first resolve whether, under United States Supreme Court precedent, Defendant's preexisting arrest warrant operates to excuse mistaken or unlawful police action preceding Defendant's arrest. Defendant argues that Strieff does not justify Officer Townsend's detention of him because the State did not "show how much time elapsed between [Officer To wnsend's] act of obtaining [Defendant's] identification and the discovery of the contraband, or any intervening circumstances besides the discovery of the warrant via the impermissible request for [Defendant's] identification." Defendant further contends that "the police conduct was flagrant" because there were "three separate search-and-seizure violations of [Defendant's] rights." Asserting that Defendant was seized from the moment Officer Townsend initially began his interaction with the vehicle in which Defendant was a passenger, Defendant argues that the lack of reasonable suspicion to request his identification cannot be excused under Strieff.

         {¶7} The State answers that under Strieff, the preexisting warrant for Defendant's arrest constitutes "an intervening circumstance" that in this instance excuses whatever constitutional impropriety this Court might find preceded Defendant's seizure, identification, warrant-based arrest, and the discovery of contraband in the ensuing search of Defendant's person. Speaking to the collective facts of this case, the State asserts "there is no evidence of police misconduct [despite the lack of evidence regarding]... the lapsed time between the possible illegality and the acquisition of evidence." We agree with the State and explain.

         Defendant's Arrest Warrant Was an Intervening Cause That Attenuated His Unlawful Seizure From ...

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