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Davis v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

February 26, 2015

STEVEN DAVIS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Submitted November 6, 2014

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CMD-542-13). (Hon. John McCabe, Trial Judge).

Thomas D. Engle and Sharon L. Burka were on the brief for appellant.

Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Suzanne Grealy Curt, and Jay Apperson, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 591

Thompson, Associate Judge.

After a bench trial, appellant Steven Davis was convicted of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine). He argues on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the two ziplock bags of cocaine found in his vehicle by a police officer who had entered the vehicle in order to move it out of the way of traffic. Because we conclude that the officer entered the vehicle as a reasonable

Page 592

exercise of his community caretaking function (and, as the trial court found, not in connection with a criminal investigation), and because the subsequent seizure was justified under the plain-view doctrine, we affirm.

I. Background

The government presented evidence at the suppression hearing that on the morning of January 9, 2013, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officer Marcus Smith was flagged down by the property manager of the Benning Woods Apartments on 42nd Street, N.E. The property manager reported that there were two unconscious people in a vehicle in the apartment parking lot. Upon responding to the parking lot, Officer Smith observed a small SUV, with its engine running, parked in the middle of the parking lot, blocking other vehicles. The officer explained that, because of where the SUV was parked, " nobody could come in or out of the parking spaces [on either side of the SUV] and nobody could come on or off the property." The windows of the vehicle were rolled down. The officer saw a woman sleeping in the vehicle's passenger seat and, in the driver's seat, a man -- identified during the hearing as appellant -- who was " unconscious" and " slumped over" with his head on the steering wheel.[1] Appellant's eyes were " kind of open but he didn't appear to be breathing." [2] Officer Smith attempted to awaken appellant by repeatedly calling out to him or yelling for " a minute or so." When that proved unsuccessful, the officer radioed for an ambulance.[3] An ambulance and fire truck responded in about ten minutes, and, apparently at the sound of the sirens, the woman in the SUV woke up, disoriented. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) approached the SUV, opened the doors, shook appellant, and assisted appellant and the passenger in getting out of the vehicle. The EMTs " wanted to check [the] vital signs" of appellant and the passenger. Appellant was " still in a state of unconsciousness" and was still slumped over the steering wheel and " out of it" when the EMTs arrived, but " started to come to" when the EMTs " went to move him." Officer Smith testified that appellant " had to be assisted" to get out of the SUV and required assistance to walk over to the ambulance, but remained standing without assistance outside the ambulance while the EMTs attended to him.

Officer Smith testified that he " needed to identify" the occupants of the vehicle and " needed . . . some ID." He further testified that, while the EMTs were attending to appellant, he " was going to secure [the] vehicle because it was . . . in the middle of the parking lot . . . literally blocking cars[.]" He testified at first that it was " while [he] was turning the vehicle off" that he " immediately" noticed two blue, ziplock bags containing a white rock-like substance on the driver's side floorboard, ...


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