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State v. Davis

May 16, 1997


Appeal from Superior Court of Thurston County. Docket No: 93-1-01081-1. Date filed: 07/29/94. Judge signing: Hon. Daniel J. Berschauer.

Authored by Karen G. Seinfeld. Concurring: Elaine M. Houghton, David H. Armstrong.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seinfeld

SEINFELD, J. -- Sean Davis appeals six convictions for drug, firearm, and witness tampering offenses. He claims that the police violated his privacy rights when they entered his motel room without a warrant and that, consequently, the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the motel room. We hold that the trial court properly relied upon the medical emergency exception in denying the suppression motion. Thus, we affirm.


According to Laura Cochran, the manager of a Lacey motel, Davis checked into her motel under the name "Shad Bruce" sometime between 11:00 p.m. on October 22 and 7:00 a.m. on October 23, 1993. Although the motel check-out time was 12 noon and there was a notice to this effect on the front desk, Davis paid his bill for the evening of October 23 between 3:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. that day; he paid for the evenings of October 24 and 25 between 3:00 P.M. and 11:00 p.m. on October 25. He continued to occupy the room until his arrest in the early afternoon of October 26.

Davis was not a model guest. Motel personnel discovered that he was sharing his room with a rottweiler for which he had not paid the posted $25 pet deposit. When Cochran went to Davis's room on October 25 to ask for the deposit, Davis answered the door, holding the dog by its collar. He claimed that he did not have the money, but that his girlfriend's relative would pay. But the motel did not receive the deposit.

At 11:00 the next morning, Cochran telephoned Davis to inquire about the pet deposit and to determine whether he intended to stay another night. Davis did not answer. Cochran then knocked on the door of his room. Although the inside dead-bolt lock was secured, no one answered.

The motel's head housekeeper, Shirley Toulou, testified that shortly after noon on October 26, her cleaning staff reported that Davis's room was still occupied. Because it was after check-out time, Toulou, following motel policy, asked the front desk to call Davis to inquire whether he intended to stay another night. When Davis did not answer the call, Toulou knocked on the door and identified herself. When there still was no answer, Toulou asked Cochran to call 9-1-1. Toulou testified that she asked Cochran to make the call "to see what [was] going on in the room, if there is a death or--you know, because we have had that problem before."

Sergeant Lyon and Officer Brimmer arrived at the motel at approximately 12:20 p.m. Toulou and Cochran explained that the room appeared to be occupied, but that no one responded to their repeated attempts to make contact by telephone and in person. They said that they were concerned for the occupants' safety, but did not want to investigate by themselves because they were afraid of the dog.

Sergeant Lyon went to the motel room door and found the dead bolt partially engaged. He knocked loudly, identifying himself as a police officer. No one responded, but Lyon heard a dog sniffing on the other side of the door. Sergeant Lyon, recalling an earlier occasion when he had entered an unresponsive motel guest's room and found the guest in need of medical attention due to a drug overdose, was concerned.

Believing that the room's occupant might need medical assistance, Sergeant Lyon used a pass key to open the door. When there was no response to his loud call, he and Officer Brimmer entered the room. They found Davis and a minor female, E.S., in separate beds. They also observed "numerous homemade pipes, bongs, and plastic tubing, and a black tray with lines of white powder."

When the officers' attempts to arouse Davis and E.S. verbally were unsuccessful, Officer Brimmer woke Davis by shaking him. E.S. woke moments later. The officers then explained the reason for their presence and asked Davis and E.S. for consent to search the room. E.S. consented immediately. Davis initially refused, claiming that he lacked authority because the room was in Shad Bruce's name, but withdrew his objection when motel employees confirmed that Davis fit Shad Bruce's description. He and E.S. then signed written consent forms.

During the search, the officers found drug paraphernalia, rock cocaine, and a loaded handgun. They also found used videotapes and a video camera aimed at the bed. The videotapes documented Davis, E.S. and another female smoking drugs and Davis loading and aiming a handgun at E.S.'s head.

Based on this evidence, the State charged Davis with the instant offenses. Davis moved to suppress the evidence. In denying the motion, the trial court relied upon two alternative grounds. First, it concluded that the officers' entry into Davis's motel room fell within the medical emergency exception to the warrant requirement. Second, it found that Davis did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the ...

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