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State v. Urziceanu

Supreme Court of Montana

February 24, 2015

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
MICHAEL CLAUDE URZICEANU, Defendant and Appellant.

Submitted on Briefs: January 7, 2015

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DC 13-42 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge.

For Appellant: Julie Brown, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC; Missoula, Montana

For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General; Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General; Helena, Montana

Kirsten H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney; Andrew W. Paul, Deputy County Attorney; Missoula, Montana


¶1 Michael Claude Urziceanu appeals the Fourth Judicial District Court's denial of his motion to suppress. We restate the issue on appeal as whether Missoula County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) deputies violated Urziceanu's constitutional rights by entering his property to assist with a civil standby. We conclude that they did not, and we affirm Urziceanu's conviction.


¶2 On December 19, 2012, MCSD deputies accompanied Christine Robutka to a rural property located on Ellis Creek Road. Robutka had contacted MCSD and requested a civil standby while she removed her belongings from the property. A civil standby is an operation that MCSD routinely conducts as a service to the public; it entails deputies briefly accompanying the requesting party and keeping the peace should a dispute arise. Explaining her request, Robutka said that she had been sharing a residence on the property with two men-one of whom is Urziceanu-and that she was worried that the men might cause trouble when she tried to move out.

¶3 Before following Robutka to the property, deputies met with her at a nearby eatery. Sergeant David Ball, who later testified at Urziceanu's suppression hearing, spoke with Robutka. Robutka told Ball "stories about living with the males, her possessions being at the residence . . . and that she had been living with the two males for some time and had a right to be back there retrieving her property." Sergeant Ball was satisfied that Robutka was telling the truth about her connection to the property.

¶4 Robutka led MCSD deputies up Ellis Creek Road to a property that is fenced and marked with no trespassing signs. The property includes fifteen acres and a house that is located at the end of a 100-foot private driveway and is not visible from the road. Trailing Robutka, Sergeant Ball and other deputies in two MCSD vehicles drove halfway up the driveway and parked. Sergeant Ball testified that, upon stepping out of his vehicle, he saw a "glassed-in area, like a porch or a remodeled porch." Despite drapes hanging over some of the glass, Sergeant Ball saw "several marijuana plants in there in pots." Robutka walked up to the house, opened the front door, and entered, leaving the door open behind her. Through the open door, Sergeant Ball saw more marijuana plants. He took out his camera and took a picture. The record is not clear whether Robutka retrieved any items, but she came out of the house and she and the deputies left without incident.

¶5 Two days later, MCSD Detective Scott Newell-who also testified at Urziceanu's suppression hearing-interviewed Robutka. Robutka told Detective Newell that Urziceanu was growing marijuana at the Ellis Creek property.

¶6 Detective Newell sought a warrant to search the Ellis Creek property for marijuana. To establish probable cause, the warrant affidavit recounted Detective Newell's interview with Robutka, Sergeant Ball's observations during the civil standby, and Detective Newell's familiarity with Urziceanu's terms of release for another conviction for growing marijuana. A magistrate issued the warrant, and MCSD deputies executed the search on January 2, 2014. They seized multiple adult marijuana plants.

¶7 The State charged Urziceanu with violating § 45-9-110, MCA, which criminalizes the cultivation of marijuana. Urziceanu moved to suppress the evidence gathered from the December 19 civil standby and the January 2 search on the ground that, in each instance, the State violated his right to privacy and right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The District Court held a hearing on the motion in which Sergeant Ball, Detective Newell, and Urziceanu testified. Urziceanu testified that Robutka had lived in the house for two weeks in September 2012 and had lived in a vehicle on the property for two weeks ...

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