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Snowden v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

June 19, 2015

IVAN J. SNOWDEN, Appellant,

Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Robert B. Downes, Judge. Trial Court No. 4FA-08-820 CR.

Colleen A. Libbey, Libbey Law Offices, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Timothy W. Terrell, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]


Page 440


A little after 3:00 in the morning on March 14, 2008, the Fairbanks police received an " open-line" 911 call. That is, someone called 911, but when the dispatcher answered the call, there was no response -- just an open telephone line (although the dispatcher heard a sound like a cough).

The 911 dispatcher determined that the call originated from Mom's Kitchen, a local restaurant, and police officers were dispatched to this restaurant to investigate the call. During this investigation, the officers entered the residence of Ivan J. Snowden, who lived in an apartment downstairs from the restaurant. The police found no emergency, but they did find drugs in plain view. Based on the discovery of these drugs, Snowden was convicted of third-and fourth-degree controlled substance misconduct.

In this appeal, Snowden contends that the police entry into his apartment was unlawful, and that the superior court therefore should have suppressed the drugs. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that the entry into Snowden's apartment, and the ensuing search of the apartment, were justified under the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement. We therefore uphold the search, and we affirm Snowden's convictions.

Underlying facts

At 3:16 in the morning on March 14, 2008, the Fairbanks 911 dispatch received a 911 call from Mom's Kitchen. When the 911 dispatcher answered the call and asked what was the nature of the emergency, she heard no response -- although the caller did not hang up the phone. As the dispatcher listened to the open line, she heard what she believed was a cough.

Several Fairbanks police officers went to Mom's Kitchen to investigate.

Mom's Kitchen occupied the upper floor of a two-story building. The bottom floor of the building was rented as an apartment -- although the officers did not know this until later.

The building had a front entrance that went into the restaurant. The building also had a back entrance (an arctic entry) that led inside to a landing. From this landing, stairs went up directly into the restaurant (with no intervening door), and stairs also went down into the apartment, but one had to go through an intervening door to get into the apartment.

Around the time the officers arrived at Mom's Kitchen, a taxi cab pulled up to the rear of the building. The taxi driver told the officers that he was there to pick up a man named " Jay" -- but this person never showed up.

The officers went to the front of the building to try the door, but it was locked. The officers then proceeded to the back entrance, where they discovered that the door was standing open about three to four inches. Speaking through the open door, the officers announced themselves, but there was no response.

The officers then entered the building and went up the stairs to the restaurant portion. There, they found a cordless phone sitting on a table in one of the restaurant booths. This was the phone that had been used to make the 911 call, and its line was still open -- but there was no one in the restaurant. The police saw no sign of an emergency (or of any criminal activity).

The officers then proceeded down the stairs to search the lower floor of the building. Finding that the door to the lower floor was locked, the officers knocked on the door and announced themselves. They were greeted with silence.

At this point, the officers still did not know that the lower floor of the building was an apartment. But when they contacted one of the owners of the building (Lee Brown), Brown informed them that he was renting the lower floor to a man named " Ivan Peterson" . Brown came to the building and brought keys so that the officers could enter and inspect the lower floor.

Page 441

When Brown arrived on the scene, he met the officers in the restaurant portion of the building. Brown told the officers that there was a photograph of Ivan Peterson on the restaurant wall. When Brown pointed out this photograph, one of the officers recognized " Peterson" as a man named Ivan Snowden -- a man who was known to the police because of his involvement with drugs.

When the officers asked Brown if Snowden's apartment was self-contained, Brown told them that it was not: Snowden had access to the restaurant because there was no bathroom in his apartment, so he used the one upstairs in the restaurant.

The officers returned to the door that led downstairs into the apartment. They knocked loudly on the door, and they announced themselves as police officers. In response to their announcement, the officers heard movement inside the apartment; they then heard ...

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