District Court, Provo Department The Honorable James R.
Taylor No. 161400218
Douglas J. Thompson, Margaret P. Lindsay, and Dustin M.
Parmley, Attorneys for Appellant
D. Reyes and Marian Decker, Attorneys for Appellee
Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory
K. Orme and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.
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
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.
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.
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,  and the State agreed to the dismissal of
the remaining misdemeanor count.
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
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 ...