from the District Court of Sweetwater County The Honorable
Nena James, Judge.
Representing Appellant: Office of the Public Defender: Diane
Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson [*] , Chief Appellate
Counsel. Argument by Ms. Olson.
Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney
General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General;
Christyne Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General.
Argument by Ms. Martens.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL [†] , DAVIS, FOX, and
Michael Maestas entered a conditional guilty plea to
marijuana possession, and reserved his right to appeal the
district court's denial of his motion to suppress
evidence. On appeal, Mr. Maestas argues the evidence resulted
from a search which violated his rights under the Fourth
Amendment to the United States Constitution. We affirm.
This appeal presents only one issue:
the district court erred in denying Mr. Maestas' motion
On June 25, 2016, Corporal Bradley Halter from the Green
River, Wyoming, police department stopped Mr. Maestas for a
traffic violation. Mr. Maestas attempted to walk away from
the traffic stop, which prompted Corporal Halter to hand cuff
Mr. Maestas and ask him to kneel down. Corporal Halter
immediately smelled marijuana emanating from Mr. Maestas'
person, and observed that Mr. Maestas was impaired. Corporal
Halter searched Mr. Maestas for weapons and found a small
pocket knife in his right front pocket. As Corporal Halter
removed the knife from Mr. Maestas' front right pocket,
he felt what he described as a "rock" in Mr.
Maestas' coin pocket. Corporal Halter believed the item
was contraband-a controlled substance-and removed it from Mr.
Maestas' coin pocket. Corporal Halter later determined
the "rock" was methamphetamine. His continued
search of Mr. Maestas also produced a marijuana cigarette and
a small baggie of hashish.
The State charged Mr. Maestas with possession of
methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, interference with a
peace officer, failure to produce liability insurance, and
operating a vehicle with expired or improper registration.
Mr. Maestas filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained
from Corporal Halter's search. He claimed the search and
seizure that produced the methamphetamine was unreasonable
under the Fourth Amendment. He further claimed the discovery
of the marijuana and hashish was fruit of the poisonous tree
because Corporal Halter would not have found those items had
he not illegally discovered the methamphetamine. Following a
hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress
without stating any findings of fact on the record. The
district court's entire ruling consisted of the following
statement: "I have listened carefully to the testimony
and actually reviewed case law in this case based on what I
have heard and what I believe to be the state of the law in
this regard, I am denying the Motion to Suppress."
Mr. Maestas entered a conditional guilty plea to the
possession of marijuana charge and reserved his right to
appeal the district court's order denying his motion to
suppress. In exchange for his conditional plea, the State
dismissed the other four charges.
After Mr. Maestas filed his appeal, we remanded the case to
the district court to make factual findings as required by
W.R.Cr.P. 12(f), and to state the conclusions of law it
reached on those findings. On remand, the district court
found and concluded:
Corporal Halter was removing the pocket knife from
Defendant's right front jeans pocket when, without
further manipulation, he felt the rock-like object which he
immediately suspected was contraband. That the rock-like
object was immediately suspected by Corporal Halter to be
contraband, combined with Defendant's prior evasive
actions, the odor of marijuana emanating from Defendant's
person and Defendant exhibiting signs of impairment provided
sufficient probable cause for Corporal Halter to also seize
the suspected contraband from Defendant's right front
jeans coin pocket at that time and without a warrant.
At the time Corporal Halter gained the requisite probable
cause to believe the rock-like object was contraband, he was
in the process of a protective pat-down search and was also
within the lawful bounds of Terry. Corporal Halter
had sufficient probable cause to believe the rock-like object
was contraband contemporaneously with feeling the rock-like
object with the palm side of his hand while removing the
pocket knife, based on the totality of the circumstances at
the time. Thus, the subsequent seizure of the contraband was
A trial court's specific findings of fact are presumed to
be correct. Shores v. Lindsey, 591 P.2d 895, 899
(Wyo. 1979). We must accept the district court's factual
findings on a motion to suppress "unless they are
clearly erroneous or influenced by an incorrect view of the
law." Johnson v. State, 2009 WY 104, ¶ 17,
214 P.3d 983, 987 (Wyo. 2009), quoting 27 James Wm. Moore,
et. al., Moore's Federal Practice &
Procedure § 641.195 (3d ed. 2006). This
deference is given to the trial court because it has an
opportunity to view and hear the witnesses, and to assess
credibility. Shores, 591 P.2d at 899. With respect
to the legal analysis and conclusions of the district court,
"we review the ultimate determination regarding the
constitutionality of a particular search or seizure de
novo." Sweets v. State, 2017 WY 22, ¶ 8,
389 P.3d 1214, 1216 (Wyo. 2017); Sen v. State, 2013
WY 47, ¶ 25, 301 P.3d 106, 117 (Wyo. 2013) (citing
Owens v. State, 2012 WY 14, ¶ 8, 269 P.3d 1093,
1095 (Wyo. 2012)).
Mr. Maestas did not provide this Court with an independent
analysis of the propriety of Corporal Halter's search and
seizure under the Wyoming Constitution. "A state
constitutional analysis is required unless a party desires to
have an issue decided solely under the Federal
Constitution." Damato v. State, 2003 WY 13,
¶ 8, 64 P.3d 700, 704 (Wyo. 2003); see Vasquez v.
State, 990 P.2d 476, 485 ...