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State v. Espinoza

Supreme Court of Montana

October 15, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
CELINA ESPINOZA, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 4, 2019

          District Court of the Seventeenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Valley, Cause No. DC-2017-41 Honorable Yvonne Laird, Presiding Judge

         For Appellant:

          Jeremy S. Yellin, Attorney at Law, Havre, Montana

         For Appellee:

          Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Michael P. Dougherty, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Dylan J. Jensen, Valley County Attorney, Glasgow, Montana


          Jim Rice, Justice.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Appellant Celina Espinoza (Espinoza) appeals the denial of her Motion to Suppress and Dismiss by the Montana Seventeenth Judicial District Court, Valley County.

         ¶3 Late in the evening of August 20, 2017, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper David Moon pulled over Espinoza's vehicle on Highway 24 for speeding. Moon approached the passenger side of Espinoza's vehicle and, after waiting for some time for Espinoza to notice him, began speaking with Espinoza. Moon asked if she could turn off the music playing in the car, and Espinoza had a difficult time doing so. When Moon asked for her driver's license and vehicle registration, Espinoza struggled to retrieve them. She could not produce her proof of insurance. Espinoza was very talkative, laughed throughout the conversation, and repeatedly told Moon that she had slowed down because she had seen a deer or dog, despite the fact Moon was not inquiring about her slowing down. When asked, Espinoza vaguely explained she was "going to Chrystal's house" in St. Marie, north of Glasgow. Espinoza's 6-year-old son was in the passenger seat and Moon observed that the vehicle had a "lived in" look. Moon recognized Espinoza as being connected to an investigation earlier that day when he had assisted officers with a search of a vehicle stopped outside of Espinoza's home. At the time, Espinoza had identified the vehicle as belonging to individuals who she claimed were trying to break into her home, although Moon knew she had previously permitted them to stay at her house. The search of that vehicle produced methamphetamines, marijuana, cash, and guns, and was therefore suspected of being involved in illegal drug distribution. Based on his observations and knowledge, Trooper Moon believed Espinoza may be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and may also be planning on purchasing or disposing of drugs at St. Marie. Thus, he asked her to step out of the vehicle and come back to his patrol car for further investigation.

         ¶4 Walking back to the patrol car, Moon noticed that Espinoza smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot and dilated eyes, and had a white tongue and white marks in the corners of her mouth. Espinoza stated her mouth was dry and asked for water. Patrol dispatch reported that Espinoza had multiple prior drug charges. Moon administered field sobriety tests, detecting five clues of impairment, including difficulty balancing on more than one occasion and failing to follow the test instructions. Espinoza provided a breath sample, which registered a blood alcohol level of .035. Based on the test results and his observations, Moon believed Espinoza was under the influence of illegal drugs and could not safely operate a vehicle, and placed her under arrest for DUI.

         ¶5 Moon asked Espinoza if any of a list of illegal drugs were in her vehicle. Espinoza answered "no" to each drug, but Moon believed he detected unique body movements when she answered regarding the presence of methamphetamine in her vehicle. Based on information obtained during the stop that led him to believe Espinoza was involved with narcotics, and after advising Espinoza, Moon deployed his police canine, Sammy. Sammy alerted to the driver's door of Espinoza's vehicle. Moon obtained a warrant to search Espinoza's car, which produced drug paraphernalia and a baggy with white residue. Later tests at the State crime lab revealed the white residue was methamphetamine. Likewise, Espinoza's consensual blood test was positive for methamphetamine.

         ¶6 Espinoza was charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, second offense, criminal possession of dangerous drugs, second offense, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, and criminal child endangerment. Espinoza filed a Motion to Suppress and Dismiss, contending that all of the physical evidence obtained by Moon's investigation must be suppressed because he lacked a valid legal reason to ask her to leave her vehicle, lacked particularized suspicion to expand the investigation, lacked probable cause to arrest her for DUI, and lacked particularized suspicion to conduct the canine search. The District Court concluded Moon initially lacked particularized suspicion of any crime except speeding, and thus to extend the stop, but held Moon's actions were valid because particularized suspicion was not necessary in order to ask Espinoza to step out of her vehicle, citing federal authority. The District Court also denied the Motion's challenge as to particularized suspicion for the canine search and probable cause for Espinoza's arrest. Espinoza pled guilty to ...

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