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Date: 04-20-2017

Case Style:

STATE OF MONTANA v. MICHAEL LEE BATY

Case Number: 2017 MT 89

Judge: Michael E Wheat

Court: IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA

Plaintiff's Attorney: n

Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, C. Mark Fowler, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Ben Krakowka, Deer Lodge County Attorney

Defendant's Attorney:



Dana A. Henkel



Description: On the evening of December 5, 2014, Police Officer Kristopher Vauthier (Vauthier)
observed a car with a non-functioning headlamp drive past him in the opposite direction.
Vauthier stopped the vehicle and shined his spotlight on the car. As he approached the
driverís door, he noticed a large quantity of Ziploc bags in the back seat. When he saw
Baty in the driverís seat, he immediately recognized him from several prior encounters and,
from a previous investigation a few weeks earlier, knew that Batyís driverís license was
suspended. Baty told Vauthier that the passenger, Shawn James Miller (Miller), was the
owner of the car and that he was driving because Miller had been drinking. Vauthier asked
both Baty and Miller for their driverís licenses and both responded that they did not have
3
licenses. Vauthier arrested Baty and placed him in the back seat of the patrol car, later
confirming that Batyís license was still suspended.
∂4 Two additional officers arrived at the scene while Vauthier was taking Baty to the
patrol car. Officer Jack Doemel (Doemel) also had prior experience with Baty and knew
him to be a drug user. The police department had also received reports that Baty was a
drug dealer. Doemel approached the driverís door and began speaking with Miller, who
was still in the passengerís seat. While speaking with Miller, Doemel saw a six pack of
beer in the back seat of the car and learned that Miller was on probation and not allowed
to consume alcohol. Doemel also learned from Miller that the car belonged to Millerís
parents, who had given him permission to drive it. Miller stated that he asked Baty to drive
the car because Miller did not have a driverís license.
∂5 Doemel and Miller then had the following exchange, as recorded by the officerís
body camera:
Doemel: Alright, Shawn, well, hereís the deal, I mean, because youíre on conditions . . .
Miller: Yes.
Doemel: Um, I know we can already see alcohol in the back. Iím going to ask you for permission to search the vehicle. Iím going to ask you because youíre in control of the vehicle, if your mom let you use it. You realize you donít have to give me permission to search and you can stop the search at any time,right?
Miller: Yes.
Doemel: Okay. Do I have permission to search the vehicle?
Miller: Uh, I donít even . . . I know that thereís tool bags in the trunk, I think, and uh . . . I, I mean, thereís a few . . .
4
Doemel: Alright now donít be grabbing knives and stuff on me, Sean.
Miller: But I know thereís a couple of those that were in here.
Doemel: Okay.
Miller: Other than that, man, the water bottle back thereís mine and I got a Gatorade around here somewhere.
Doemel: Alright, Sean. So do we have your permission to search the vehicle then?
Miller: Yes, sir.
∂6 Doemel and Vauthier then searched the vehicle, discovering both drugs and drug
paraphernalia in a compartment near the steering wheel, in the center console between the
front seats, and in a sunglasses case on the passenger side floor board.
∂7 On December 15, 2014, the State charged Baty by Information with criminal
possession of dangerous drugs, a felony, and with criminal possession of drug
paraphernalia, a misdemeanor, in violation of ßß 45-9-102 and 45-10-103, MCA.1 On
February 12, 2015, Baty moved the District Court to suppress evidence, seeking to exclude
the evidence obtained from the stop and warrantless search of the vehicle. On March 18,
2015, the District Court held a motions hearing and, on April 22, 2015, the court entered
its order denying Batyís motion.
∂8 On April 29, 2015, Baty entered into a plea agreement with the State. Under the
agreement, Baty pled guilty to both the felony and misdemeanor drug charges, but
1 The State also charged Baty with driving while license is suspended or revoked, a misdemeanor, in violation of ß 61-5-212, MCA, but the charge was withdrawn during the plea agreement process.
5
preserved his right to appeal the District Courtís denial of his motion to suppress. The
District Court accepted the plea agreement and, on December 11, 2015, entered its
judgment, finding Baty guilty of both the felony and misdemeanor drug charges. The court
deferred sentencing on the felony drug charge, and sentenced Baty to six months in jail,
with all suspended, for the misdemeanor drug charge. Baty filed a timely appeal with this
Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW ∂9 We review a district courtís denial of a motion to suppress to determine whether the
district courtís findings of fact are clearly erroneous and whether those findings were
correctly applied as a matter of law. State v. Olson, 2003 MT 61, ∂ 11, 314 Mont. 402, 66
P.3d 297 (citing State v. Dawson, 1999 MT 171, ∂ 13, 295 Mont. 212, 983 P.2d 916).
Whether a district courtís findings of fact meet the statutory requirements is a question of
law which we review for correctness. In re L.L.A., 2011 MT 285, ∂ 7, 362 Mont. 464, 267
P.3d 1 (citing In re Mental Health of E.P.B., 2007 MT 224, ∂ 5, 339 Mont. 107, 168 P.3d
662).
∂10 In reviewing a district courtís ruling on a motion to suppress evidence or statements,
we determine whether the courtís underlying factual findings are clearly erroneous and
whether the courtís interpretation and application of the law are correct. State v. Copelton,
2006 MT 182, ∂ 8, 333 Mont. 91, 140 P.3d 1074; State v. Bassett, 1999 MT 109, ∂ 17, 294
Mont. 327, 982 P.2d 410; State v. Loh, 275 Mont. 460, 475, 914 P.2d 592, 601 (1996). The
courtís findings of fact are clearly erroneous if they are not supported by substantial
credible evidence, if the court has misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or if our
6
review of the record leaves us with a definite or firm conviction that a mistake has been
made. State v. DeWitt, 2004 MT 317, ∂ 21, 324 Mont. 39, 101 P.3d 277; Loh, 275 Mont.
at 475, 914 P.2d at 601.
DISCUSSION ∂11 Issue One: Did the District Court make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in its order denying Batyís motion to suppress?
∂12 Baty first argues that the District Courtís order should be reversed because the court
failed to set forth any findings of fact to support its general conclusions of law, in
contravention of ß 46-13-104(3), MCA. The State contends that the court stated sufficient
findings of fact and conclusions of law, as reflected in the transcript of the motions hearing
proceedings and in the order itself. We agree with the State.
∂13 Under ß 46-13-104(3), MCA, a trial courtís ďdetermination of any pretrial motion
must state, either in writing or on the record, the courtís findings of fact and conclusions
of law.Ē Section 46-13-104(3), MCA. ďThe litmus test is whether a district courtís order
sets forth reasoning, based upon its findings of fact and conclusions of law, in a manner
sufficient to allow informed appellate review.Ē Snavely v. St. John, 2006 MT 175, ∂ 11,
333 Mont. 16, 140 P.3d 492 (citing Shammel v. Canyon Res. Corp., 2003 MT 372, ∂ 28,
319 Mont. 132, 82 P.3d 912). While it is not the Courtís role ďto review the record with
the purpose of making our ownfindings,Ē we have ďlong adhered Ďto the doctrine of implied
findings[,] which states that where a courtís findings are general in terms, any findings not
specifically made, but necessary to the judgment, are deemed to have been implied, if
supported by the evidence.íĒ Snavely, ∂ 11 (citing Continental Realty, Inc. v. Gerry, 251
7
Mont. 150, 154, 822 P.2d 1083, 1086 (1991)); Brunette v. State, 2016 MT 128, ∂ 36, 383
Mont. 458, 372 P.3d 476 (quotingInterstate Brands Corp. v. Cannon, 218 Mont. 380, 384,
708 P.2d 573, 576 (1985)). This Court will consult both hearing transcripts and written
findings to make an implied finding determination. Brunette, ∂ 36 (citing In re S.M., 2014
MT 309, ∂ 28, 377 Mont. 133, 339 P.3d 23).
∂14 In this case, Batyís motion to suppress sought to exclude evidence obtained from
the stop and warrantless search of the vehicle Baty was driving because he claimed: 1)
Vauthier did not have particularized suspicion to stop the vehicle; and 2) the officers did
not request Batyís consent to search the vehicle. As to the first issue, this Court has held
that the lawfulness of a traffic stop under the Montana Constitution depends on whether
the officer had a particularized suspicion that an occupant of the vehicle has committed or
is committing an offense. State v. Farabee, 2000 MT 265, ∂ 30, 302 Mont. 29, 22 P.3d
175. In Montana, it is unlawful for a vehicle driving on public roads to be without at least
two properly functioning headlamps. Sections 61-8-104, 61-9-203(1), MCA. Thus, the
District Court was required to make a finding that Vauthier had a particularized suspicion
that Baty was driving without a functioning headlight. The District Courtís order stated
that ďduring oral argument the [c]ourt ruled that the traffic stop was legal,Ē a conclusion
supported by the transcript of the proceedings wherein the court stated:
Iím comfortable with the fact of the stop at this point.. . . The officer testified that the light was out. Iíll look at the [in car] video again, but I donít think itís going to overcome Officer Vauthierís testimony, might confirm it, so the stop itself was good.
8
Thus, the courtís general findings necessarily include implied findings sufficient to
conclude that Vauthier had a particularized suspicion to stop Baty for a non-functioning
headlight. Accordingly, we conclude that the District Court did not err in failing to provide
more specific findings as to the lawfulness of the stop.
∂15 Regarding the issue of consent, the District Courtís order made findings of fact
necessary to conclude that the officers conducted a lawful warrantless search of the vehicle
Baty was driving. The court found that: 1) Miller had permission to use the vehicle from
his parents, the owners of the vehicle, and gave the officers consent to search the vehicle;
2) Baty identified Miller as the owner of the car and did not object to the search; and 3)
there was ďno evidence to suggest that the officers purposely removed the Defendant for
the sake of avoiding a possible objection.Ē Based on these facts, the District Courtís order
cited Montana case law in support of its specific legal conclusion that the police conducted
a lawful warrantless search in this case because Miller ďhad common authority to grant
consent for the search of the vehicle and his consent was legally sufficient to justify a
warrantless search.Ē Accordingly, we conclude that the District Court set forth sufficient
findings of fact and conclusions of law to allow informed appellate review.
∂16 Issue Two: Did the District Court err in denying Batyís motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search of the vehicle Baty was driving?
∂17 Baty next argues that the District Court erred in denying his motion because the
officers violated his constitutional right of privacy when they conducted a warrantless
search of the vehicle without Batyís knowledge or consent. The State argues that the court
9
properly denied Batyís motion because Baty had no expectation of privacy in the vehicle
he was driving.
∂18 Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section
11 of the Montana Constitution provide that the people shall be free from unreasonable
searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Mont. Const. art. II, ß 11. Additionally, the
Montana Constitution provides that the right of individual privacy shall not be infringed
without the showing of a compelling state interest. Mont. Const. art. II, ß 10. ďWe have
repeatedly held that Montanaís unique constitutional language affords citizens a greater
right to privacy, and, therefore, provides broader protection than the Fourth Amendment in
cases involving searches of private property.Ē State v. Ellison, 2000 MT 288, ∂ 46, 302
Mont. 228, 14 P.3d 456. Such protections extend to warrantless searches of automobiles.
Ellison, ∂ 47.
∂19 The District Court determined that the search of the vehicle Baty was driving was
legal because the passenger, Miller, had common authority to grant consent for the search
of the vehicle. We agree with the District Court. ďOnce a stop has been made pursuant to
a particularized suspicion, Montana law does not require additional justification for
requesting consent.Ē State v. Clark, 2008 MT 419, ∂ 25, 347 Mont. 354, 198 P.3d 809
(citing State v. Snell, 2004 MT 269, ∂ 17, 323 Mont. 157, 99 P.3d 191). We have repeatedly
held that a warrantless search is not unlawful when the police obtain the free and voluntary
consent of the defendant or a third party who possesses common authority over the private
property sought to be inspected. State v. Goetz, 2008 MT 296, ∂ 41, 345 Mont. 421, 191
P.3d 489; State v. Sorenson, 180 Mont. 269, 275, 590 P.2d 136, 140 (1979) (stating that
10
ďwhen the prosecution seeks to justify a warrantless search by proof of a voluntary consent,
it is not limited to proof that consent was given by the defendant, but may show that
permission to search was obtained from a third party who possessed common authority
over or other sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected.Ē)
(quoting United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171, 94 S.Ct. 988, 993(1974)). This rule
applies so long as there is no evidence that the police have removed a potentially objecting
party to avoid a possible objection to the search. See Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103,
121, 126 S. Ct. 1515, 1527 (2006).
∂20 Without deciding whether Baty had a legitimate expectation of privacy in this case
and assuming, arguendo, that Baty did have an expectation of privacy here, we conclude
that the police did not need to obtain Batyís consent to search the vehicle and its internal
compartments because Millerís consent was voluntarily given and sufficient to justify the
warrantless search. Miller had permission from his parents to use the vehicle and thus had
common, if not superior, authority to Baty to consent to the of search the vehicle.
Additionally, the record supports the conclusion that the police removed Baty from the
vehicle because he was operating it unlawfully, not because they sought to avoid a possible
objection from Baty regarding the search.

Outcome:

We conclude that the District Court did not err in denying Batyís motion to suppress. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

Comments:



 
 
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