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State v. Peoples

Supreme Court of Arizona

September 12, 2016

State of Arizona, Appellant,
Robin Peoples, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County The Honorable Teresa Godoy, Judge Pro Tempore No. CR20142935-001

         Memorandum Decision of the Court of Appeals, Division Two 2 CA-CR 2014-0408 Filed July 30, 2015

          Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney, Nicolette Kneup (argued), Deputy County Attorney, Tucson, Attorneys for State of Arizona

          Steven R. Sonenberg, Pima County Public Defender, Michael J. Miller, David J. Euchner (argued), Deputy Public Defenders, Tucson, Attorneys for Robin Peoples

          JUSTICE TIMMER authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER, and JUSTICES BRUTINEL and BOLICK joined.



         ¶1 The issue in this case is whether an overnight guest who left his cell phone in his host's apartment lost his legitimate expectation of privacy in that phone, thereby defeating his challenge to a warrantless search of the phone. We hold that the defendant here did not lose his expectation of privacy in his phone. And as an overnight guest, he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the apartment. Because no exception to the warrant requirement existed, and the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply, the trial court properly suppressed evidence of a video found on the phone and of statements the defendant made to the police about that video.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Robin Peoples lived next door to his girlfriend, D.C., at a Tucson apartment complex. He frequently spent time at D.C.'s studio apartment. About three months into the relationship, Peoples spent the night at D.C.'s apartment and used his cell phone to film the couple having sex. D.C.'s daughter, who also lived at the complex, found D.C. unresponsive in bed the next morning while Peoples was in the bathroom. The daughter called 911, and Peoples ran from the apartment to direct the paramedics, leaving his cell phone behind. While paramedics were tending to D.C, whom they ultimately pronounced dead, Peoples sought solace at a friend's upstairs apartment. No one asked Peoples to leave D.C.'s apartment.

         ¶3 Tucson Police Officer Travis Mott came to D.C.'s apartment after she was pronounced dead. He looked for information that might identify D.C.'s doctor, hoping the doctor could shed light on D.C.'s recent health and sign the death certificate. He found a "smart" cell phone in the bathroom. Assuming the phone belonged to D.C, the officer turned it on and opened it with a finger swipe to search her contacts (it was not passcode protected). A paused video-image of D.C. on her back in bed, mostly naked, appeared on the screen. The officer pressed "play" and watched part of a video of Peoples having sex with a seemingly unresponsive D.C. Before he watched the video, Officer Mott had been told that Peoples spent the night at the apartment.

         ¶4 Peoples returned to D.C.'s apartment a short time after leaving and asked a police officer at the door to retrieve his cell phone from the bathroom. According to Peoples, that officer entered the apartment and later returned, handcuffed Peoples, and took him into Peoples' apartment. Officer Mott testified he was never told about Peoples' request. According to Officer Mott, after viewing the video, he detained Peoples in his apartment, read him his Miranda rights, and questioned him about the video. Peoples confirmed that he had sex with D.C. during the early morning hours and filmed it with his phone. Peoples also told Officer Mott that D.C. "probably was [dead]" when they had sex, although he "thought she was breathing" and had heard "her snoring earlier." Peoples later watched the video with other officers and answered their questions.

         ¶5 The State charged Peoples with necrophilia and two counts of sexual assault. Peoples moved to suppress evidence of the video, contending that the warrantless search of the phone was unlawful under the federal and state constitutions. After an evidentiary hearing at which Officer Mott, Peoples, and a detective testified, the trial court granted the motion. It also suppressed Peoples' statements to police because they resulted from the illegal search. The court of appeals reversed, reasoning that the warrantless search was permissible because Peoples did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in either D.C.'s apartment or his cell phone and therefore could not challenge the searches. State v. Peoples, 2 CA-CR 2014-0408, at *5-6 ¶¶ 22, 27-28 (Ariz. App. July 30, 2015) (mem. decision).

         ¶6 We granted review because the constitutional issues raised are of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction pursuant to article 6, section 5(3), of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-120.24.

         II. ...

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