Argued: February 28, 2018
J. MacDonald, attorney general (Sean R. Locke, assistant
attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.
Christine C. List, assistant appellate defender, on the brief
and orally, for the defendant.
State appeals an order of the Superior Court (Ruoff,
J.) granting the motion filed by the defendant, Shannon
Glavan, to suppress evidence seized from her automobile. We
reverse and remand.
trial court found, or the record establishes, the following
facts. At approximately 1:45 a.m. on September 23, 2015,
Officer O'Connor of the Manchester Police Department
observed a car parked at a Mobil gas station in Manchester,
which had been closed since 11:00 p.m. the night before. He
approached the car and saw the defendant sleeping in the
driver's seat. O'Connor shined a light into the
defendant's car and, when she did not wake up, knocked on
the window. While knocking, he saw a "loaded syringe
containing a clear, reddish liquid" by the
defendant's left leg. Based on his training and
experience, O'Connor believed the syringe contained
the defendant awoke, O'Connor asked her to exit the car
and she agreed. O'Connor instructed the defendant not to
touch the syringe and stated that he would secure it before
she stepped out of the car because he wanted to prevent
needle sticks to either of them. The defendant opened the
door and remained in the driver's seat while O'Connor
reached in, retrieved the syringe, and placed it on the roof
of the car. After the defendant exited the car, O'Connor
asked her what was in the syringe, and she answered that it
contained "meth." O'Connor arrested the
defendant and secured the syringe, which later tested
positive for methamphetamine.
defendant was charged with possession of a controlled drug,
and she moved to suppress all evidence resulting from the
search of her vehicle under Part I, Article 19 of the New
Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution. Following a
hearing, the trial court granted the defendant's motion.
The trial court reasoned that, given that at that time there
was no recognized automobile exception to the warrant
requirement under the State Constitution, the plain view
doctrine did not authorize O'Connor's warrantless
search of the defendant's vehicle. Accordingly, the court
concluded that "the syringe and other fruits" of
O'Connor's entry into the defendant's vehicle
must be suppressed. This appeal followed.
acceptance of the State's appeal, but prior to briefing,
we stayed this appeal pending the outcome of State v.
Cora, 170 N.H. 186 (2017). In Cora, we
recognized a limited automobile exception to our warrant
requirement under the State Constitution. Cora, 170
N.H. at 188-89. The State now argues that, given our decision
in Cora, because O'Connor "had lawfully
detained the defendant and had probable cause to believe that
the plainly visible syringe was loaded with contraband, he
did not need a warrant to reach into the defendant's car
to seize the syringe," and, therefore, the trial court
erred in suppressing the evidence.
defendant acknowledges that the parties' dispute in the
trial court over whether the plain view exception to the
warrant requirement justifies an officer's physical
intrusion into a vehicle was rendered moot by Cora.
Nonetheless, the defendant asserts that the automobile
exception that we recognized in Cora is limited to
vehicles that are "stopped in transit," and, thus,
the exception does not apply here because she "was
asleep and parked when police came into contact with her
vehicle." The defendant does not contend that her
vehicle was stopped pursuant to an unlawful stop, and we
accordingly limit our analysis to the question whether the
vehicle was stopped "in transit."
reviewing a trial court's rulings on a motion to
suppress, we accept its findings of fact unless they lack
support in the record or are clearly erroneous. Id.
at 190. We review its legal conclusions de novo.
Cora we determined that the federal automobile
exception is too broad in that it permits police officers,
with probable cause to search a lawfully stopped vehicle, to
conduct a warrantless search of every part of the vehicle
"that may conceal the object of the search."
Id. at 195-96. We reasoned that "there can be a
reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas of the
interior of an automobile otherwise placed in the public
view." Id. at 196 (quotation omitted).
Accordingly, we recognized "a more limited automobile
exception to our warrant requirement," under which
"the police need no warrant to enter an automobile when:
(1) the vehicle has been stopped in transit pursuant to a
lawful stop; and (2) the police have probable cause to
believe that a plainly visible item in the vehicle is
contraband." Id. We determined that this
limited exception balances the diminished expectation of
privacy in an automobile with the government's
"well-recognized need to seize readily movable
contraband." Id. (quotation omitted). As we
noted, "when an automobile is stopped in transit, there
is a risk that the contraband will be permanently lost while
a warrant is obtained." Id. at 197 (quotation
and ellipses omitted).
State appears to argue that a "lawful detention" is
all that is required under the first prong of the limited
automobile exception set forth in Cora. The
defendant counters that a lawful detention alone is not
sufficient to satisfy the first Cora prong because,
unlike the federal automobile exception, the automobile
exception in Cora "limited its applicability
only to those vehicles that are stopped in transit." She
asserts that in State v. Camargo, 126 N.H. 766, 771
(1985), we distinguished between parked vehicles and vehicles
in transit. She contends that her car, like the vehicle in
Camargo, was parked and, therefore, not in transit.
We need not decide whether the first Cora prong is
limited to ...