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State v. Baty

Supreme Court of Montana

April 18, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL LEE BATY, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 18, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Third Judicial District, In and For the County of Deer Lodge, Cause No. DC-14-64 Honorable Ray Dayton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Dana A. Henkel, Terrazas Law Offices, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, C. Mark Fowler, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Ben Krakowka, Deer Lodge County Attorney, Anaconda, Montana

          Michael E Wheat Judge

         ¶1 Michael Lee Baty (Baty) appeals from the April 22, 2015 order of the Third Judicial District Court, Deer Lodge County, denying his motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search of the vehicle Baty was driving. On April 29, 2015, Baty entered a plea agreement with the State, pleading guilty to the possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. Baty preserved his right to appeal the District Court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence.

         ¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

Issue One: Did the District Court make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in its order denying Baty's motion to suppress?
Issue Two: Did the District Court err in denying Baty's motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search of the vehicle Baty was driving?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 On the evening of December 5, 2014, Police Officer Kristopher Vauthier (Vauthier) observed a car with a non-functioning headlamp drive past him in the opposite direction. Vauthier stopped the vehicle and shined his spotlight on the car. As he approached the driver's door, he noticed a large quantity of Ziploc bags in the back seat. When he saw Baty in the driver's seat, he immediately recognized him from several prior encounters and, from a previous investigation a few weeks earlier, knew that Baty's driver's license was suspended. Baty told Vauthier that the passenger, Shawn James Miller (Miller), was the owner of the car and that he was driving because Miller had been drinking. Vauthier asked both Baty and Miller for their driver's licenses and both responded that they did not have licenses. Vauthier arrested Baty and placed him in the back seat of the patrol car, later confirming that Baty's license was still suspended.

         ¶4 Two additional officers arrived at the scene while Vauthier was taking Baty to the patrol car. Officer Jack Doemel (Doemel) also had prior experience with Baty and knew him to be a drug user. The police department had also received reports that Baty was a drug dealer. Doemel approached the driver's door and began speaking with Miller, who was still in the passenger's seat. While speaking with Miller, Doemel saw a six pack of beer in the back seat of the car and learned that Miller was on probation and not allowed to consume alcohol. Doemel also learned from Miller that the car belonged to Miller's parents, who had given him permission to drive it. Miller stated that he asked Baty to drive the car because Miller did not have a driver's license.

         ¶5 Doemel and Miller then had the following exchange, as recorded by the officer's body camera:

Doemel: Alright, Shawn, well, here's the deal, I mean, because you're ...

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