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State v. Wallace

Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma

May 23, 2019

STATE OF OKLAHOMA, Appellant,
v.
BRITTNEY JO WALLACE, Appellee.

          AN APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF ROGERS COUNTY THE HONORABLE H.M. WYATT, III, ASSOCIATE DISTRICT JUDGE

          KALI STRAIN ZACHARY COBELL COUNSEL FOR THE STATE

          MARK ANTINORO CHRISTOPHER GARNER ANTINORO LAW FIRM, PLC LARRY STEIDLEY STEIDLEY LAW FIRM COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT

          MATTHEW J. BALLARD DISTRICT ATTORNEY ANTHONY J. EVANS COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT

          SUMMARY OPINION

          LUMPKIN, J.

         ¶1 Appellee, Brittney Jo Wallace, was charged by Information in the District Court of Rogers County, Case No. CF-2016-461, with Enabling Child Abuse (Counts 1 & 2) (21 O.S.2011, § 843.5 (B)) and Child Neglect (Count 3) (21 O.S.2011, § 843.5 (C)). On April 16, 2017, the Honorable H.M. Wyatt, III, Associate District Judge, held a pretrial hearing concerning Appellee's motion to suppress and took the matter under advisement. In a written order issued on February 22, 2018, Judge Wyatt sustained Appellee's motion and suppressed any and all evidence the State obtained in the search and seizure of Appellee's cell phone. [1] The State appeals to this Court pursuant to 22 O.S.2011, § 1053 (6).

         ¶2 Section 1053 provides, in relevant part, that the State may appeal, "[u]pon a pretrial order, decision or judgment suppressing or excluding evidence in cases alleging violation of any provisions of Section 13.1 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes." Since both Enabling Child Abuse and Child Neglect are offenses enumerated under Section 13.1, we find that the State's appeal is proper.

         ¶3 The State raises the following propositions of error in support of this appeal:

I. The seizure of Appellee's cellular phone was supported by probable cause and thus a reasonable seizure.
II. The District Court's findings are in error and not supported by the law or the facts in the record.

         ¶4 This Court reviews appeals pursuant to 22 O.S.2011, § 1053 to determine if the trial court abused its discretion. State v. Gilchrist, 2017 OK CR 25, ¶ 12, 422 P.3d 182, 185; State v. Hooley, 2012 OK CR 3, ¶ 4, 269 P.3d 949, 950; State v. Love, 1998 OK CR 32, ¶ 2, 960 P.2d 368, 369. This is the same standard applied when we review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress. Bramlett v. State, 2018 OK CR 19, ¶ 10, 422 P.3d 788, 793; State v. Keefe, 2017 OK CR 3, ¶ 7, 394 P.3d 1272, 1275. An abuse of discretion is any unreasonable or arbitrary action taken without proper consideration of the facts and law pertaining to the matter at issue or a clearly erroneous conclusion and judgment, one that is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts presented. Neloms v. State, 2012 OK CR 7, ¶ 35, 274 P.3d 161, 170.

         ¶5 In Proposition One, the State challenges the District Court's suppression of the evidence recovered from Appellee's cellular phone. The State argues that the District Court erred when it determined that the initial seizure and accessing of Appellee's phone on May 13, 2016 was contrary to her constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.

         ¶6 The United States Supreme Court has long held that the "'touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.'" Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 39, 117 S.Ct. 417, 421, 136 L.Ed.2d 347 (1996) (quoting Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 250, 111 S.Ct. 1801, 1803, 114 L.Ed.2d 297 (1991)). "Reasonableness, in turn, is measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the circumstances." Id.

         ¶7 Reviewing the record, we find that the District Court abused its discretion when it suppressed the evidence recovered from Appellee's cell phone. The District Court's determination that the initial seizure and accessing of the phone was illegal is clearly erroneous and without proper consideration of the facts and law pertaining to the matter. Warrantless seizures of evidence are presumed unreasonable. State v. Sittingdown, 2010 OK CR 22, ¶ 9, 240 P.3d 714, 716. Nonetheless, "society's interest in the discovery and protection of incriminating evidence from removal or destruction can supersede, at least for a limited period, a person's possessory interest in property, provided that there is probable cause to believe that that property is associated with criminal activity." Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 808, 104 S.Ct. 3380, 3387, 82 L.Ed.2d 599 (1984). Therefore, a warrantless seizure is permissible when law enforcement has probable cause to believe ...


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