March 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Officer’s Observation of Used Marijuana Pipe Sufficient to Provide Probable Cause for Search of Car

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Verigan on Thursday, September 25, 2015.

Warrantless Search of a Vehicle—Probable Cause—Motion to Suppress Evidence—Miranda Warning—Voluntary Statements.

After Verigan’s vehicle was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, in which Verigan was a passenger in the front seat, officers found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. She was found guilty of possession of two grams or less of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

On appeal, Verigan argued that the evidence obtained from the search of her vehicle should have been suppressed because Officer Mitchell’s observation of a used marijuana pipe and an unlabeled pill bottle, without more, did not give the officers probable cause to search the vehicle. The officer’s observation of a used marijuana pipe containing a burned substance that the officer could reasonably infer to be marijuana supported a reasonable belief that the vehicle could have contained marijuana, an illegal drug at the time of the search in 2011. Therefore, there was probable cause for the search of Verigan’s car, and the trial court properly denied her motion to suppress the evidence discovered during that search.

Verigan further argued that the trial court erred by denying her motion to suppress the statements she made to police at the scene and later at the station. Based on the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in Verigan’s situation would have had reason to believe that her freedom of action had been curtailed to the degree associated with a formal arrest and that she was in custody for Miranda purposes even though she had not been given a Miranda warning. Accordingly, the trial court erred by failing to suppress the statements she made to the officers before the Miranda advisement was given. However, because all of the improperly admitted statements that Verigan made in the pre-advisement interrogation were voluntary, and she repeated those statements in her properly admitted post-advisement statement, the improper admission of the pre-advisement statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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