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State v. Bull

Supreme Court of South Dakota

May 15, 2019

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
REAGAN SHORT BULL, Defendant and Appellant.



          JASON R. RAVNSBORG Attorney General JOHN M. STROHMAN Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          LINTON T. CLARKE, III of Office of the Public Defender for Pennington County Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

          SALTER, JUSTICE.

         [¶1.] Reagan Short Bull, Jr. was convicted in magistrate court of driving under the influence after the magistrate judge denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained during a vehicle stop. The circuit court affirmed the magistrate's denial of his motion to suppress, and Short Bull appeals. We affirm.


         [¶2.] At approximately 3:00 a.m. on February 25, 2017, Rapid City 911 dispatch received a call from the night clerk at the Country Inn and Suites hotel in Rapid City. The clerk relayed that she had received a call from a female in Room 315 asking for help. Believing the call to be a report of a domestic disturbance, the clerk requested an officer's assistance to help her investigate. After ending the call, the clerk called dispatch back a short while later to advise that the female caller from Room 315 was in the lobby. The female had confirmed that it was a domestic dispute and relayed that the male was still in the room. The female then left the hotel.

         [¶3.] Officer Richard Holt, a 23-year veteran of the Rapid City Police Department, was on patrol near the Country Inn and Suites and responded within moments to the initial dispatch. As he was pulling into the parking lot of the hotel, dispatch advised that the female had left the hotel and was in the parking lot with "unknown description of vehicle or direction of travel." Officer Holt surveyed the front parking lot in his patrol vehicle, but he did not observe any pedestrian or traffic movement. However, as he pulled into the rear parking lot, he encountered a black SUV leaving the lot. He followed the SUV around to the front parking lot and activated his lights and siren.

         [¶4.] An adult male, later identified as Reagan Short Bull, emerged from the SUV with his keys in his hand before Officer Holt reached his vehicle. Officer Holt approached Short Bull and asked what he was doing. Short Bull advised that he was moving his car from the back lot to the front lot and mentioned he had been in a fight with his girlfriend, who, it appeared, was not in the vehicle. Officer Holt observed that Short Bull was stumbling and emitting a strong smell of intoxicants. Short Bull confirmed to Officer Holt that he was staying in Room 315 and identified his girlfriend by name. He then told Officer Holt he had to use the restroom, and Officer Holt accompanied Short Bull back into the hotel.

         [¶5.] Officer Britany Vogel arrived to assist Officer Holt and observed Short Bull leaving the restroom. She noted that Short Bull was "unsteady on his feet and stumbling" with "red blood shot eyes, slurred speech, and a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his person." Short Bull told Officer Vogel that he could not complete field sobriety tests because he was intoxicated. Officer Vogel placed Short Bull under arrest, handcuffed him, and searched him. She then transported him to the Pennington County Jail. Short Bull consented to a blood draw, which yielded a result of 0.264 percent alcohol by weight. He was charged with alternative counts of driving while under the influence. See SDCL 32-23-1(1) to (2).

         [¶6.] Short Bull moved the magistrate court to suppress all evidence and statements obtained during the stop. He claimed the stop was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment because Officer Holt lacked reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate the stop. At the hearing on Short Bull's motion to suppress, Officer Holt testified that when he entered the hotel parking lot, he was "looking for a female, possible victim or a female in distress that . . . dispatch said [had] left the . . . building and went into the parking lot." Officer Holt further explained that there were no people or vehicles moving in the parking lot except the black SUV, and he could not see inside the SUV's tinted windows to determine if there was a person in distress in the vehicle. Officer Holt acknowledged that he did not know whether a crime or injury had occurred in Room 315 to cause the woman to request help from the front desk-just that there was a disturbance. He also acknowledged that he did not observe Short Bull driving erratically or committing traffic violations during the short time he followed Short Bull in the hotel parking lot.

         [¶7.] In its post-hearing brief, the State argued that Officer Holt had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to stop Short Bull's vehicle. It also contended the stop was justified under the community caretaker exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The magistrate judge agreed and denied Short Bull's motion to suppress, finding the existence of "reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain the vehicle." The magistrate judge also determined that the stop was justified as a law enforcement community caretaking function and exigent circumstances.

         [¶8.] Following a bench trial on July 11, 2018, the magistrate court convicted Short Bull of driving under the influence-first offense and sentenced him to 90 days in jail with 90 days suspended, revoked his driver's license for 30 days, and assessed court costs. See SDCL 32-23-2. Short Bull appealed his conviction to circuit court, arguing, among other things, that Officer Holt lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and that the community caretaking exception did not apply because the basis for the stop was "not totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence[.]" ...

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