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State v. Oryall

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 8, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
Jennifer Oryall, Appellant.

          Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable James R. Taylor No. 161400218

          Douglas J. Thompson, Margaret P. Lindsay, and Dustin M. Parmley, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Marian Decker, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          HARRIS, JUDGE

         ¶1 May a police officer, without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, run a license plate check on a passing vehicle? The federal courts, interpreting the U.S. Constitution, have answered this question in the affirmative. Jennifer Oryall, who was found to be driving under the influence of drugs after an officer checked her license plate and detained her, asks us to conclude that law enforcement officers violated the Utah Constitution by performing such a check without reasonable suspicion that Oryall was engaged in criminal activity. The district court was not persuaded by Oryall's arguments, and neither are we. Accordingly, we affirm.


         ¶2 Jennifer Oryall was driving on State Road 198 in Payson, Utah, when she passed a police officer (Officer) who was parked on the side of the road running license plate checks on passing cars. Officer ran Oryall's license plate number through a government-managed electronic database containing vehicle registration records. This check revealed that the vehicle was registered to Oryall, a person Officer had previously encountered in his law enforcement career. Intrigued, Officer then ran a check on Oryall's driver's license records in a separate government-managed electronic database. This check revealed that Oryall's driver's license was suspended. Officer then sought to confirm that Oryall was indeed the driver of the vehicle, and he watched as the car parked at a nearby convenience store. He then saw Oryall exit the vehicle and go inside, allowing him to confirm her identity.

         ¶3 After Oryall walked out of the convenience store, she got back in her car and resumed driving, and Officer initiated a traffic stop. Officer immediately observed that Oryall manifested several signs of impairment, including white powder in and around her nostrils, glossy eyes, constricted pupils, foam on her lips, muscle and eyelid tremors, and slurred speech. Officer then performed field sobriety tests and determined that Oryall was impaired. Oryall later confessed to having ingested a number of controlled substances prior to driving. Oryall was arrested and later charged with driving under the influence, a third degree felony, possessing drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor, and driving on a suspended license, a class C misdemeanor.

         ¶4 Following a preliminary hearing, the magistrate dismissed the drug paraphernalia charge, but bound Oryall over for trial on the two remaining charges. Oryall then moved to suppress all evidence from her traffic stop. In the memorandum accompanying her motion, Oryall argued that the Utah Constitution "[conferred] an expectation of privacy in motor vehicle and driver records," that the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) recognized that expectation, and that therefore, under Utah law, police officers are not entitled to check license plates against the government-managed databases containing vehicle registration or driver's license information without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The district court denied Oryall's motion to suppress. Later, Oryall entered into a plea agreement with the State pursuant to which she entered a conditional guilty plea to the felony DUI charge, reserving the right to appeal the court's denial of her motion to suppress, [1] and the State agreed to the dismissal of the remaining misdemeanor count.


         ¶5 Oryall now exercises that right to appeal, and asks us to reverse the district court's denial of her motion to suppress. A district court's denial of a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Fuller, 2014 UT 29, ¶ 17, 332 P.3d 937. In this context, we review a district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions, including its application of law to the facts of the case, for correctness. Id.


         ¶6 The Utah Constitution protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures." Utah Const. art. I, § 14. As pertinent here, this provision "prohibits state actors from unreasonably intruding into areas where citizens have a legitimate expectation of privacy." Schroeder v. Utah Attorney Gen.'s Office, 2015 UT 77, ¶ 22, 358 P.3d 1075. Thus, before properly invoking article I, section 14 of the Utah Constitution, a defendant must, as a "threshold" matter, "demonstrat[e] a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched." State v. Atwood, 831 P.2d 1056, 1058 (Utah Ct. App. 1992) ("The requirement of demonstrating a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched is a threshold requirement that a defendant must satisfy in order to establish a violation of constitutional rights."); see also State v. Larocco, 794 P.2d 460, 469 ...

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