District Court, Kanab Department The Honorable Marvin D.
Bagley No. 131600036
W. Sessions, Attorney for Appellant.
D. Reyes and Lindsey L. Wheeler, Attorneys for Appellee.
Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate
A. Toomey and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.
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,
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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. ...