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State v. Holtzclaw

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

June 8, 2017


          DOYLE, C. J., MILLER, P. J, and REESE, J.

          Doyle, Chief Judge.

         The State appeals from the grant of Audrey Holtzclaw's motion to suppress evidence police found in her house, which evidence is the basis for charges that she crossed the guard line of the county jail with a controlled substance[1] and that she possessed methamphetamine (two counts) and alprazolam in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act.[2] The State contends that the trial court erred by ruling that (1) an occupant of the home lacked authority to allow police into Holtzclaw's home, and (2) Holtzclaw did not thereafter voluntarily give police consent to search her house. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         There are three principles that guide our review of a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress.

First, when a motion to suppress is heard by the trial judge, that judge sits as the trier of facts. The trial judge hears the evidence, and his findings based upon conflicting evidence are analogous to the verdict of a jury and should not be disturbed by a reviewing court if there is any evidence to support them. Second, the trial court's decision with regard to questions of fact and credibility must be accepted unless clearly erroneous. Third, the reviewing court must construe the evidence most favorably to the upholding of the trial court's findings and judgment.[3]

         Further, "to the extent that the controlling facts are undisputed because they are plainly discernable from [a] recording . . ., we review those facts de novo."[4]

         So viewed, the record shows that police received a complaint of drug activity at a particular address in Dawson County. Two officers arrived at the residence and knocked on the front door. They could hear activity inside, but initially no one came to the door; soon thereafter, a man named Shannon emerged from a garage door where the officers met him. The officers had independent knowledge that they were looking for Holtzclaw, who lived at the residence. Shannon explained that "this is not my house. This is my cousin's house . . . I don't live here." Shannon said he had come to visit Holtzclaw, but she was not there. The front door would not open, so he had found another door unlocked and had entered the house to wait for Holtzclaw. Shannon explained that he did not have a key to the house, but Holtzclaw would be back soon. The officers asked Shannon if they could walk through the house to see if anyone else was there, and Shannon said "that's fine with me, but like I said, this is not my house."

         After entering the house, police encountered a man named Kevin, who provided a false name and date of birth. Police started to arrest Kevin, but he resisted, and an altercation ensued. After Kevin was subdued, the officers checked the rest of the house and noticed an odor of marijuana and a marijuana smoking device in a separate bedroom. After the initial sweep of the house, Shannon "insisted [on] trying to contact" Holtzclaw, but officers were unable to reach her, so they decided to apply for a warrant to search the house.

         Thereafter, investigators arrived, and two officers left the scene to apply for the warrant; on their way, they were advised that Holtzclaw had arrived at her residence, so they went back to speak to Holtzclaw.

         When Holtzclaw arrived, she observed that "officers [were] coming in and out of the front door of my house. They were already in there[, ] and they had already [taken] Kevin to jail[, ] and Shannon was not there. . . . [Police] were in there and didn't have permission to be in my house. . . Nobody was there. Just the police officers with the front door wide open."

         Much of the ensuing conversation with Holtzclaw was recorded on an audio recorder triggered by police when they began speaking to her. In that conversation, police asked for consent to search her house, repeatedly assuring Holtzclaw that she would have an opportunity to explain the circumstances for anything they found and whether it was brought there by visitors. The officer also explained to Holtzclaw that they had already found "a marijuana pipe" in the house, and they were in the process of obtaining a search warrant: "Either way, we're gonna find it, so, search warrant or not, so, if you think the search warrant's gonna lessen the blow, I mean, it's not."

         Holtzclaw declined consent to search her house, but allowed officers to search her purse and car. Police found a syringe and her mother's prescription pills in Holtzclaw's car, but nothing in her purse. A few minutes later, after further discussion, the officer again asked for consent to search her house, and Holtzclaw said she did not "want to go to jail for something someone else did, " pointing out that other people had stayed in her house the prior night. The officer again reiterated that he would allow Holtzclaw a chance to explain whatever they find. Ultimately, Holtzclaw consented to a search of her house.

         During the search, police found syringes in Holtzclaw's bedroom and methamphetamine in a jewelry box on her dresser. Holtzclaw was arrested and taken to jail, where an additional packet of suspected methamphetamine was found on her person. Holtzclaw was charged with crossing the guard line of the county jail with a controlled substance and possessing methamphetamine and alprazolam.

         Holtzclaw moved to suppress the evidence found in her house, arguing that the police lacked authority to enter it initially and that her subsequent consent was not voluntarily given. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted the motion, ruling that Shannon did not have authority to allow police into Holtzclaw's home while she was not there and ...

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