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Law School Case Brief

People v. Schafer - 946 P.2d 938 (Colo. 1997)

Rule:

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and its Colorado counterpart are intended to protect from unreasonable governmental intrusion one's legitimate expectation of privacy. The highest protection is afforded to one's residence; a search thereof without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. In determining whether a defendant has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his tent, the court takes notice that tents have long been utilized as temporary or longer term habitation in Colorado and the West.

Facts:

During an investigation of a robbery that occurred in a convenience store (shop), police entered the tent of Defendant Scott Robert Schafer, and searched a backpack found in the tent. Defendant was not on the premises at the time, and the police officers did not have a search warrant. Several months later, Defendant was identified by the clerk of the shop as the person who robbed the store. Thereafter, Defendant was charged with aggravated robbery. Prior to trial, Defendant moved to exclude testimony and other evidence based on the warrantless search of his tent and backpack. The district court granted the motion for suppression, finding that Defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The court further held that no exigent circumstances existed for a search without a warrant, as the police were unaware of any connection between the occupant of the tent and the robbery for several months. The district attorney then brought the present appeal.

Issue:

Was the evidence obtained from the warrantless search of the tent inadmissible?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court held that the exclusionary rule was properly applied. Although defendant's tent was on private property at the time of the search, defendant was given no notice that he was trespassing or that the owner of the land intended to exclude the public. Accordingly, he enjoyed license and privilege to enter, was in lawful possession of the tent and the personal effects therein, and had standing to contest the search. The court took notice that tents were utilized as temporary or longer term habitation in Colorado and held that defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the tent. There was no basis for the police officers to reasonably believe that the tent and the personal effects therein had been abandoned by their owner. The police observed no one in the vicinity of the campsite and had no reasonable belief that the robbery suspect was the camper or was inside the tent.

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