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Wilson v. State

January 13, 2009

JOSEPH WILSON, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, The Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Voigt, Chief Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, Joseph Wilson, contends that the district court erred when it found that a police officer's use of a patrol car computer to search for outstanding warrants did not constitute a search and/or seizure. Appellant also argues that the district court erred when it declined to find a search of Appellant's person unconstitutional because the evidence did not support a finding that police used excessive force during the encounter.

ISSUES

[¶2] 1. Did the district court err when it determined that a warrant check is not a search or a seizure and therefore does not trigger the protection of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or of Article I, Section 4 of the Wyoming Constitution?

2. Did the district court err when it declined to find the search of Appellant's person unconstitutional because the evidence presented did not support a determination that officers used excessive force during the encounter?

FACTS

[¶3] Appellant was walking down the street when Officer Ben Baedke of the Casper Police Department stopped him and initiated a conversation. Officer Baedke, who remained seated in his patrol car, asked for Appellant's name. Appellant gave his first name, but the officer looked at him "expecting a little bit more -- something a little bit more specific," and Appellant provided his full name. Officer Baedke used the computer in his car to run a warrant check on Appellant while they talked. The computer search returned an outstanding warrant in Appellant's name and Officer Baedke confirmed that the picture attached to the warrant was of Appellant.

[¶4] Officer Baedke radioed for backup and for confirmation of the warrant. He got out of his car, approached Appellant, and informed him that there was a warrant for his arrest. After dispatch confirmed the warrant, Officer Baedke and Officer Walters, who had responded as backup, placed Appellant under arrest. Officer Baedke handcuffed Appellant and performed a search of Appellant's person incident to arrest, finding a counterbalance weight*fn1 in Appellant's pants pocket. Officer Baedke then requested that Appellant open his hand, which was clenched. Appellant responded that he did not understand why he had to open his hand, at which point Officer Walters unholstered his TASER, removed the cartridge, and held the TASER to Appellant's neck. Officer Baedke ordered Appellant to open his hand and informed him that the officers would deploy the TASER if he did not comply. Approximately three seconds later, Officer Walters deployed the TASER and Appellant fell to the ground, injuring his head by striking it on the pavement. When ordered by the officers again to open his hand, Appellant said "I dropped it!" The officers helped Appellant up and found three baggies of a crystalline substance, later confirmed to be methamphetamine, on the ground where Appellant had fallen. The officers transported Appellant to the hospital where he was checked for serious injury, treated, and released.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶5] Findings on factual issues made by the district court considering a motion to suppress are not disturbed on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. Since the district court conducts the hearing on the motion to suppress and has the opportunity to assess the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the evidence, and make the necessary inferences, deductions, and conclusions, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the district court's determination. The issue of law, whether an unreasonable search or seizure has occurred in violation of constitutional rights, is reviewed de novo.

Holman v. State, 2008 WY 54, ¶ 8, 183 P.3d 368, 371 (Wyo. 2008) (quoting Grant v. State, 2004 WY 45, ¶ 10, 88 P.3d 1016, 1018 (Wyo. 2004)) (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

[ΒΆ6] Appellant contends that officers violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and/or seizure during the encounter that led to his arrest. He first attacks Officer Baedke's warrant check by contending that his initial contact with Officer Baedke was a seizure and that reasonable suspicion of criminal activity was required to support Officer Baedke's actions. Appellant then argues that the warrant check itself was a search and that Officer Baedke had to have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or Appellant's consent to run the warrant check. Finally, Appellant asserts that the search of his person was rendered unreasonable when officers used excessive force by ...


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