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State v. Chase

Supreme Court of South Dakota

October 3, 2018

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
NATHAN D. CHASE, Defendant and Appellant.



          MATTHEW W. TEMPLAR Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          ELLERY GREY Grey & Eisenbraun Law Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.


         [¶1.] Nathan Chase was convicted of second-degree murder. He appeals the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an investigatory stop. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] On January 23, 2017, at about 7:50 p.m., law enforcement responded to a call from a Rapid City motel regarding an assault. Officers discovered the body of Jeremy Little in the entrance to one of the motel rooms. He had been fatally stabbed in the face and neck, and there was substantial blood at the scene. Captain Tony Harrison of the Pennington County Sheriff's Office reviewed security footage of the hallway outside the room in which Little was found. He observed six people entering and leaving the room that night. Five of the individuals were identified and excluded as suspects. The sixth, an unidentified man, became the murder suspect. From the footage, Harrison observed that the suspect was a male of average weight and height wearing a black stocking cap, dark pants, dark shoes, and a tan Carhartt jacket over a black hooded sweatshirt.

         [¶3.] After completing the initial investigation around 2:00 a.m., Harrison returned to the motel to search nearby dumpsters for the murder weapon. At about 3:15 a.m., he observed a man walking on the sidewalk about two blocks from the motel. Harrison believed the man resembled the suspect from the security footage based on height and weight. Harrison also noticed he was wearing a tan Carhartt jacket similar to the coat worn by the suspect. Yet, in contrast, the pedestrian wore his jacket over a white hooded sweatshirt rather than a black one. Additionally, his shoes were white rather than dark, and he had on different colored pants than those worn by the suspect in the security footage. It was a cold evening and no one else was moving on the streets.

         [¶4.] Based on the man's similar appearance-primarily his build and the Carhartt jacket-and his proximity to the crime scene, Harrison decided to investigate. He activated his emergency lights and stopped his unmarked vehicle next to the man, later identified as Nathan Chase. Harrison exited the car, introduced himself as a law enforcement officer, and informed Chase that he wanted to ask about an "event" at the motel. Chase agreed to a search of his person, and Harrison found a bloody knife in Chase's pocket. Chase was taken into custody and questioned. The blood on the knife was later matched to Little's DNA.

         [¶5.] Chase was indicted for second-degree murder. Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the stop. The circuit court denied the motion, ruling that Harrison had reasonable suspicion to initiate the investigatory stop. A jury found Chase guilty. He appeals the circuit court's decision. He does not challenge the circuit court's findings of fact. He only challenges the court's legal conclusion that Harrison had reasonable suspicion for the stop.


         [¶6.] "The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article VI, § 11 of the South Dakota Constitution protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures."[1] State v. Walter, 2015 S.D. 37, ¶ 7, 864 N.W.2d 779, 782. Although it is preferable for law enforcement to obtain a warrant before conducting a search or seizure, a warrant is not necessary for less invasive intrusions, such as an investigatory stop. Id. (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1879, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)). "[W]hen a person is subject to an 'investigative detention' rather than a full-blown custodial arrest, the officer need only have reasonable suspicion for the detention rather than the probable cause typically required." Id. (quoting State v. De La Rosa, 2003 S.D. 18, ¶ 7, 657 N.W.2d 683, 686). That is because "[a] brief stop of a suspicious individual, in order to determine his identity or to maintain the status quo momentarily while obtaining more information, may be most reasonable in light of the facts known to the officer at the time." State v. Stanley, 2017 S.D. 32, ¶ 13, 896 N.W.2d 669, 675 (quoting Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146, 92 S.Ct. 1921, 1923, 32 L.Ed.2d 612 (1972)). Thus, "if police have a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a completed felony, then a Terry stop may be made to investigate that suspicion." United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 229, 105 S.Ct. 675, 680, 83 L.Ed.2d 604 (1985). The question whether an officer has reasonable suspicion is viewed under the totality of the circumstances. Stanley, 2017 S.D. 32, ¶ 13, 896 N.W.2d at 675.

         [¶7.] Chase argues Harrison only had a "sixth sense" about Chase being the perpetrator. He contends Harrison's testimony at the suppression hearing confirms the stop was based on a mere "hunch." However, Harrison's testimony shows he relied on his twenty years of experience as a law enforcement officer in determining whether to stop an individual based upon all the information known to him at the time. It is well settled that law enforcement "officers [may] draw on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to them that 'might well elude an untrained ...

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