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State v. Siftsoff

Court of Appeals of Alaska

April 30, 2010

STATE of Alaska, Petitioner,
v.
Allen SIFTSOFF Jr., Respondent.

David L. Brower, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division Central Office, and Richard A. Svobodny, Acting Attorney General, Juneau, for the Petitioner.

Michael Jude Pate, Assistant Public Defender, Sitka, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Respondent.

Before: COATS, Chief Judge, and MANNHEIMER and BOLGER, Judges.

OPINION

COATS, Chief Judge.

Sergeant Daryl Rice of the Sitka Police Department saw a truck traveling at approximately sixty to sixty-five miles per hour in a forty-five mile per hour zone. Sergeant Rice activated his overhead lights and pursued the truck, reaching speeds which he estimated at eighty to eighty-five miles per hour. Sergeant Rice pursued the truck as it slowed down to turn into the gravel road of a trailer park. The truck momentarily fishtailed, kicked up some gravel and dust, and then

Page 215

continued, apparently under control. Sergeant Rice recognized the driver as Allen Siftsoff Jr.

Siftsoff got out of his truck and started walking toward a trailer that Sergeant Rice knew was Siftsoff's trailer. Sergeant Rice told Siftsoff that he was conducting a traffic stop and told him not to go into the trailer. Siftsoff shook his head and went into the trailer.

After calling for backup and checking to make sure no one else was in the truck, Sergeant Rice knocked on the trailer door, announced his presence, and then proceeded to open the trailer door and enter. In the trailer, he encountered Siftsoff, who was apparently intoxicated. Sergeant Rice took Siftsoff into custody.

A grand jury indicted Siftsoff on three counts: (1) failure to stop at the direction of a peace officer,[1] a class C felony; (2) reckless driving, [2] a misdemeanor; and (3) misdemeanor driving under the influence. [3] Siftsoff filed a motion to suppress, arguing that Sergeant Rice had illegally entered his residence and asking the court to suppress all of the evidence which derived from the entry-the evidence of Siftsoff's intoxication. The State argued that Sergeant Rice's entry into Siftsoff's residence was justified under the doctrine of " hot pursuit."

Following an evidentiary hearing, Superior Court Judge David V. George granted the motion to suppress. Judge George held that, to enter a home, the police must not only have probable cause, but also that " an emergency or exigency must also exist and the emergency or exigency must be of such a nature that it compels entry into a person's home by police before a warrant can be secured." Judge George concluded that the police had not met this standard. He concluded that Sergeant Rice had probable cause " to believe Siftsoff was driving the vehicle [that Sergeant] Rice observed and that Siftsoff remained in the house at the time of [Sergeant] Rice's entry." Judge George stated that there was little danger that Siftsoff would have been able to escape, that he would not have gotten very far if he had attempted to escape, and that Siftsoff would not have been a danger to others. Judge George further stated that there was no indication that Siftsoff was armed or dangerous. Despite finding that Sergeant Rice's pursuit was immediate and continuous, Judge George concluded that " given the specific facts of this case the appropriate action would have been for Sergeant Rice to await the arrival of back-up and obtain a warrant from a neutral judge or magistrate."

Why we uphold Judge George's decision

We conclude that Judge George's order accurately reflects Alaska law. We have reviewed the Alaska cases which discuss the " hot pursuit" exception to the warrant requirement. In reviewing these cases, we find that the decisions do not support allowing the police to enter a residence merely because the police are engaged in an immediate and continuous pursuit of a suspect. The police must have " a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant." [4]

We discuss the cases in chronological order. In Gray v. State,[5] the Alaska Supreme Court discussed the " hot pursuit" doctrine. Relying on United States v. Robinson,[6] the supreme court stated that " hot pursuit" requires an exigency " in which time ...


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