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State v. Gaters

Supreme Court of South Dakota

September 20, 2017

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
WALTER W. GATERS, Defendant and Appellant.


          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General

          CAROLINE SRSTKA Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          ELLIE M. VANDENBERG Volga, South Dakota Attorney for defendant and appellant.

          WILBUR, Retired Justice

         [¶1.] Officers arrested defendant after they executed a search warrant at his friend's home. During the search, officers found marijuana in defendant's van parked outside the home. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, asserting that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The circuit court found that defendant did not have a personal, legitimate expectation of privacy in his friend's home and could not challenge the search. The court alternatively ruled that the search did not violate defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. Defendant appeals. We affirm.


         [¶2.] On January 23, 2015, an agent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) informed Detective Dana Rogers of the Brookings Police Department that Joseph Jones may be dealing large quantities of marijuana in the Brookings area. Jones lived in a trailer home within and near the entrance to the Lamplighter Village Trailer Park in Brookings.

         [¶3.] That same day, Detective Rogers had a pole camera installed on a public street light across from Jones's trailer. Detective Rogers did not obtain a warrant for the camera. The camera continuously recorded a street view of Jones's home and front yard from January 23, 2015, to March 19, 2015. Detective Rogers could view the recordings live or he could look at previously recorded footage to review what had already taken place. Detective Rogers observed when Jones's vehicle was at the home, when it left, how long it was gone, when visitors came and where they parked, how long they stayed, when pedestrians walked by, etc.

          [¶4.] On March 6 and 11, Detective Rogers reviewed the camera footage and observed Jones leave his home with a black or dark-colored trash bag. Detective Rogers believed Jones took the trash bag to the trailer park's community dumpster. On both days, Detective Rogers rummaged through the dumpster. Detective Rogers identified Jones's trash bags in the dumpster and discovered evidence suggesting drug use. During the garbage search on March 11, Detective Rogers found a letter addressed to Walter Gaters at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. The letter did not contain postage, which indicated to Detective Rogers that Jones never mailed the letter. Detective Rogers testified that he knew Gaters from a past investigation for possession of marijuana.

         [¶5.] Using the information gained from the garbage searches and from the pole camera footage, Detective Rogers prepared an affidavit for a search warrant on March 11 to install a GPS tracking device on two vehicles at Jones's home. On March 13, Detective Rogers submitted a second application for a search warrant for Jones's trailer home. On March 19, 2015, Detective Rogers sat in a patrol vehicle outside Jones's home for several hours. He observed Jones and Gaters arrive at Jones's home in the late afternoon. Detective Rogers saw Jones exit the vehicle carrying a large duffle bag. Jones carried the duffle bag into the home and Gaters followed. After both Gaters and Jones were in Jones's home, Detective Rogers and other officers executed the search warrant. The search uncovered approximately three pounds of marijuana and $27, 000 cash inside Jones's home. Detective Rogers also searched Gaters's van, which was located outside Jones's home, and found marijuana. Detective Rogers arrested both Jones and Gaters, and the State charged them with drug-related offenses.

         [¶6.] In a consolidated hearing in July 2015, the circuit court considered Jones's and Gaters's separate motions to suppress the evidence seized during the March 19 search. Jones argued that the use of the pole camera to surveil his home violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Gaters argued that he had an expectation of privacy in Jones's home, and, therefore, the use of the pole camera violated his Fourth Amendment rights too. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court orally denied both motions. It held that "Jones can claim no expectation of privacy for what he does outside his home in full view of the public at large." In the court's view, "society would not recognize that once you step outside your home that you have an unfettered expectation of privacy." Because Jones had no expectation of privacy, the court also concluded that Gaters had no expectation of privacy.

         [¶7.] The court issued separate findings of fact and conclusions of law on Jones's and Gaters's motions. This appeal concerns Gaters's motion; we considered Jones's appeal in State v. Jones, 2017 S.D. 59, __ N.W.2d__. In regard to Gaters's motion, the court entered findings of fact on Gaters's expectation of privacy in Jones's home. The court found that Gaters and Jones were "close friends, " that Jones cared for Gaters's cat while Gaters was incarcerated, and that Gaters visited Jones's home often. But the court concluded that Gaters did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in Jones's home on March 19 because Gaters had no authority over Jones's home or unfettered access to or right to control the home. In the court's view, Gaters was "simply permitted to be on the premises."

         Alternatively, the court held that if Gaters had an expectation of privacy, the search did not violate ...

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