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State v. Hamilton

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 24, 1990

STATE of Connecticut

Argued Jan. 3, 1990.

Frederick W. Fawcett, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Donald A. Browne, State's Atty., and John Smriga, Asst. State's Atty., for appellant (state).

Mark F. Gross, Bridgeport, for appellee (defendant).


[214 Conn. 693] ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Justice.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the Appellate Court erred in concluding that the discovery of certain keys used to unlock a van where drugs were

Page 1198

stored was not inadvertent and thus did not qualify under the plain view doctrine as an exception to the warrant requirement. [1] The [214 Conn. 694] Appellate Court in State v. Hamilton, 17 Conn.App. 385, 552 A.2d 834 (1989), held that, on the basis of the testimony given during the pretrial hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress the van keys seized by the police in a search of her apartment, the trial court could have reasonably concluded that Detective Richard DeRiso had reason to believe, prior to the procurement of the four search warrants involved, that the van was ordinarily locked, that the keys were kept in the defendant's apartment, and that DeRiso entered the defendant's apartment with the specific purpose of locating the keys and thus the discovery of such keys was not inadvertent to come within the plain view doctrine. We granted the state's petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court; State v. Hamilton, 211 Conn. 804, 559 A.2d 1139 (1989); and conclude that the Appellate Court did not err in finding that the discovery of the keys was not inadvertent under the plain view doctrine.

Although the Appellate Court has set out sufficient facts, we need to present those facts relevant to the proper disposition of the issue presented. On February 17, 1987, Detectives DeRiso and Miguel Cardozo of the Bridgeport police department obtained four search warrants authorizing the search of (1) the defendant's residence, building 5, apartment 305, of the P.T. Barnum Apartments in the city of Bridgeport; (2) a tan and orange van without license plates located at the P.T. Barnum Apartments; (3) the person of the defendant's son, Dayomas Hamilton; and (4) the person of the defendant, Daisy Hamilton. The warrant listed the items to be seized as including, inter alia, "[c]ocaine, any paraphernalia used in cutting and packaging[214 Conn. 695] of cocaine such as scales, grinders, strainers, measuring spoons, plastic baggies, glassine bags, pyramid papers, plastic vials, lactose, any monies and or records pertaining to the sales of cocaine and any firearms used for the personal protection of drug traffickers."

DeRiso and Cardozo had applied for the warrants on the basis of information given to them by an informant that crack was being sold from the defendant's apartment and on the basis of their own observation on February 11, 1987, of a subsequent "controlled buy" involving the defendant's son, Dayomas, conducted with the participation of an informant. While conducting the "controlled buy," DeRiso and Cardozo had observed Dayomas escort the informant from the defendant's apartment to an unregistered tan and orange Ford van located outside the apartment, which Dayomas "unlocked and entered." The two officers observed Dayomas exit the van and deliver the drugs to the informant.

On February 18, 1987, DeRiso and other police officers executed the warrants. Prior to executing the warrants, however, DeRiso or Cardozo held a "briefing meeting." At that meeting, the officers were briefed about the "controlled buy" from the Ford van and told to search for narcotics. At the same time, several officers were assigned to guard the Ford van, and Detective Thomas Russell was assigned to search the defendant's bedroom. Shortly after DeRiso, who was in charge of the search party, and the other officers entered the defendant's apartment, he asked the defendant "if the keys to a van parked outside were in the apartment." The defendant stated, "I don't know who that van belongs to nor do I know where the keys are."

[214 Conn. 696] In the course of searching the defendant's bedroom for narcotics, Russell came across a set of keys on a shelf. He did not seize the keys at that time. Russell testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress

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that as he looked at these keys, they meant nothing to him "whatsoever." While Russell was still searching in the bedroom, DeRiso asked the officers whether anyone found keys to a Ford van. It was only then that Russell attached significance to the keys. Russell then took the keys off the shelf and gave them to DeRiso. DeRiso took the keys and opened the Ford van described in the warrant. In the defendant's apartment and in the Ford van, the officers found incriminating evidence including several vials of cocaine. [2] The defendant was subsequently charged by information with two counts of unlawful possession of a narcotic substance with intent to sell in violation of General Statutes § 21a-278(b) and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia in a drug factory situation in violation of General Statutes § 21a-277(c).

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, defense counsel argued, inter alia, that the keys should be suppressed because they had not been listed in the search warrant and, therefore, the seizure of the keys was illegal. The state argued that the keys were admissible under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. The court orally granted the defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the seizure of the keys was not legal under the plain view exception because the keys had not been discovered inadvertently. In doing so, the trial court noted that keys are not "of themselves" contraband and are not normally tools of [214 Conn. 697] crimes. From this judgment the state appealed to the Appellate Court, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-96.

The Appellate Court held that the trial court could reasonably have concluded that the keys were not inadvertently discovered in the course of the search of the defendant's apartment within the meaning of the plain view exception and that the seizure of the keys was therefore not justified by that exception. State v. Hamilton, supra, 17 Conn.App. at 391, 552 A.2d 834. The court stated that "[f]or a discovery to be inadvertent within the meaning of the plain view exception, police must not have anticipated the discovery or have known in advance the location of the evidence.... A discovery is inadvertent if it occurs 'without premeditation or prior intention.' " Id., 17 Conn.App. at 389, 552 A.2d 834. We agree.

The fourth amendment to the United States constitution provides: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." This amendment prohibits general and exploratory searches. Both state and federal courts are required to exclude evidence obtained by means of searches found violative of the fourth amendment. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652 (1914), made applicable to states in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961); see State v. DelVecchio, 149 Conn. 567, 572-73, 576, 182 A.2d 402 (1962).

It has been said that "searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by a judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment--subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Katz v. United [214 Conn. 698] States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967); State v. Zindros, 189 Conn. 228, 236-37, 456 A.2d 288 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1012, 104 S.Ct. 1014, 79 L.Ed.2d 244 (1984). In Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 464-73, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971), a plurality of the United ...

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