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State v. Adams

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 9, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Timothy Joseph Adams, Appellant.

         Sixth District Court, Kanab Department The Honorable Marvin D. Bagley No. 131600036

          Dale W. Sessions, Attorney for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Lindsey L. Wheeler, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate A. Toomey and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          ORME, JUDGE

         ¶1 Timothy Joseph Adams (Defendant) appeals his convictions for producing and intending to distribute a controlled substance, arguing that the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence discovered during a police search of his home. Because we agree with the district court that the challenged search did not violate Defendant's rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, we affirm.

         ¶2 On March 2, 2013, Big Water Deputy Rob Johnson responded to a call from Defendant's elderly mother, who was very concerned about her son. Defendant, who lived alone in Big Water, had not been in contact with her in several days, although typically they would speak on a near-daily basis. At sixty-five, Defendant was not in good health, and his mother feared the worst. Having responded to many similar calls involving older individuals in the past, Deputy Johnson did, too.

         ¶3 Deputy Johnson departed immediately to conduct a "welfare check" at Defendant's home. Upon arriving, he saw that a light was on inside, but no one answered when he knocked on the door and yelled into the home. Deputy Johnson saw no vehicles on the property, but he did find signs that someone had recently been repairing leaky pipes underneath the home. The area around the entrance to the crawl space was moist, and a light in the crawl space was being powered by an extension cord that ran up through an open window and into the living room. He also saw that some tools had been left near the air conditioning unit on top of the roof, and near them a ladder had been left leaning up against the home. While all of this might have suggested that Defendant had left to buy a part or borrow a tool mid-project, Defendant's neighbors informed Deputy Johnson that they had not seen Defendant for two or three days.

         ¶4 Deputy Johnson called Defendant's mother to apprise her of the situation. After reiterating her concerns for her son's health and safety, she implored Deputy Johnson to "use whatever means necessary" to ensure that her son was alright. He complied and entered Defendant's living room through the open window.

         ¶5 Upon entering Defendant's house, Deputy Johnson saw a grow light and several plants, all in various stages of cultivation. He recognized the plants to be marijuana. After searching every area within the residence where he believed he might find Defendant, Deputy Johnson concluded that Defendant was not at home. After photographing the plants with his cell phone, Deputy Johnson left the residence.

         ¶6 After obtaining a search warrant, Deputy Johnson returned to Defendant's home accompanied by Big Water's Marshal. When they arrived, Defendant was loading marijuana plants into his pickup truck and texting on his cell phone. All in all, the officers found six marijuana plants, in addition to some potting soil, industrial grow lights, rolling papers, and a rifle. Based on what they found while executing this warrant, the officers obtained a second warrant to seize Defendant's rifle and cell phone.

         ¶7 Defendant was later charged with production of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, both second degree felonies. He was also charged with three less serious offenses.

         ¶8 Defendant moved to suppress the State's evidence against him on the grounds that Deputy Johnson's initial search of his home violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that all evidence obtained as a result of the first and second warrants was therefore fruit of an unlawful search. After extensive briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Defendant's motion and issued a memorandum decision setting forth its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court determined that, viewing the circumstances "objectively, and as a whole, it was reasonable for Deputy Johnson to conclude there was an emergency and that Defendant was in immediate need of life-saving assistance." The court concluded that the deputy's warrantless entry into Defendant's home was therefore "reasonable and lawful under the circumstances."

         ¶9 Ultimately, Defendant agreed to enter guilty pleas on his two second degree felony charges in exchange for the State's dismissal of the three remaining charges. As a part of his plea agreement, however, Defendant reserved the right to appeal the district court's ruling on his motion to suppress. See generally Utah R. Crim. ...


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