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State v. Maciel-Figueroa

Supreme Court of Oregon, En Banc

March 2, 2017

STATE OF OREGON, Petitioner on Review,
ANTONIO MACIEL-FIGUEROA, Respondent on Review.

          Argued and submitted May 9, 2016

         On review from the Court of Appeals, CC 11P3134; CA A148894 [*]

          Susan G. Howe, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, filed the brief for petitioner on review. Also on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Paul L. Smith, Deputy Solicitor General.

          Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Salem, filed the brief for respondent on review.

          Elizabeth G. Daily, Portland, filed the brief for amicus curiae Oregon Justice Resource Center. Also on the brief was Corinne Fletcher.

         Case Summary:

Police officers responded to a phone call that a named man was threatening to break things in a house, saw defendant walking away from the house, and ordered him to stop and return for questioning. The officers suspected that defendant was the man identified in the report and that he had committed criminal mischief, menacing, or assault inside the house. Defendant argued that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him, as required by Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution, and he moved to suppress evidence obtained during that stop. The trial court ruled that the officers' suspicion was objectively reasonable; the Court of Appeals held that it was not and reversed.


(1) "Reasonable suspicion" requires that an offer reasonably suspect that a defendant has committed or is about to commit "a specific crime or type of crime"; (2) an appellate court's review of a criminal investigatory stop is limited to the record made at the trial court concerning the officer's actual belief that the defendant may have committed a crime; and (3) the officers, in this case, lacked reasonable suspicion to stop defendant, because they failed to articulate sufficient facts to support an objectively reasonable inference that defendant had damaged property or hurt or threatened to hurt someone inside the home.

         The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed. The judgment of the circuit court is reversed, and the case is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.

          NAKAMOTO, J.

         This criminal case concerns whether police officers violated the prohibition against unreasonable seizures in Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution, when they responded to a report that a named man was threatening to break things in a house, they saw defendant walking away from the house, and they ordered him to stop and return for questioning. The trial court concluded that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant to investigate whether he had committed a crime; thus, it denied defendant's motion to suppress evidence resulting from the stop. The Court of Appeals reversed. State v. Maciel-Figueroa, 273 Or.App. 298, 308, 356 P.3d 674 (2015).

         We allowed the state's petition for review to consider the state's contention that the Court of Appeals erroneously heightened the standard that the state must meet to establish that an investigatory stop was supported by reasonable suspicion. In the state's view, a police officer may stop any person "if the officer reasonably believes that the person was either somehow involved with, or a witness to, possible criminal activity." The state contends that the Court of Appeals instead required the state to show that, before stopping defendant, the police had confirmed that he had committed a crime.

         As we explain, although there has been some variation in this court's articulation of the standard, the established standard for reasonable suspicion supporting an investigatory stop of a defendant is met when an officer can point to specific and articulable facts that give rise to a reasonable inference that the defendant committed or was about to commit a specific crime or type of crime. We further conclude that the Court of Appeals correctly applied the reasonable-suspicion standard to the facts established at the suppression hearing, which concerned whether it was reasonable for the officers to infer that defendant had committed a crime. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals and reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We review a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress for legal error, and we are bound by the trial court's factual findings if there is any constitutionally sufficient evidence in the record to support them. State v. Ehly, 317 Or 66, 75, 854 P.2d 421 (1993). When the trial court did not make express findings and there is evidence from which the trial court could have found a fact in more than one way, we will presume that the trial court decided the facts consistently with the trial court's ultimate conclusion. Id. We take the facts from the Court of Appeals opinion and the record of the suppression hearing, viewed consistently with those standards.

         Two Salem police officers, Officer Moffitt and Corporal Welsh, responded to a report of a disturbance at a home where a woman named Velek lived. Velek's mother had called the police and reported that she had just spoken with her daughter, who "said that someone named * * * Wilson was at her house and was threatening to break things." Maciel-Figueroa, 273 Or.App. at 299. "Velek's mother reported that she could hear a lot of yelling in the background when she was speaking to her daughter, and she requested that the police go to her daughter's house." Id. Moffitt knew Velek from previous contacts at the residence, and he was familiar with the layout of her house.

         Ten minutes after Velek's mother called the police, Moffitt and Welsh each arrived by car to investigate the disturbance. "They parked a few houses away and walked on the sidewalk toward Velek's home. When they were near the home, they saw defendant walking down Velek's driveway." Id. at 300. Moffitt thought that defendant was walking at a normal pace, but Welsh thought that defendant's pace "seemed a little bit rapid." "Based on his knowledge of the layout of Velek's home, Moffitt was certain that defendant had come from the home." Id. Defendant, who did not appear to see the two officers, "reached the sidewalk and turned in the direction away from the officers." Id.

         Moffitt called out to defendant and asked to speak to him. Defendant looked toward the officers, put his hands in his pockets, and continued to walk away from them. At that point, Moffitt stopped defendant by identifying himself as a police officer and directing defendant to come back and speak with them. Moffitt further instructed defendant to take his hands out of his pockets. After defendant did that, "he began to walk a little bit faster back towards the house, putting his hands in his pockets again." Id. After Moffitt called out to defendant at least three more times, defendant stopped at the front porch of Velek's house.

         The officers approached, and Moffitt asked defendant whether he had any weapons or drugs, which defendant denied. Then, with defendant's consent, Moffitt searched him. The search immediately yielded a methamphetamine pipe. After handcuffing defendant, Moffitt turned his attention to the two other individuals outside Velek's house, who were then visible to Moffitt. One of them was Velek, and the other turned out to be Wilson, the man identified in the disturbance call from Velek's mother. Eventually, the officers discovered that defendant had given them a false name and possessed an identification card containing the same false name.

         After defendant was charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine, giving false information to a police officer for a citation, identity theft, and tampering with physical evidence, he moved to suppress all of the evidence derived from Moffitt's search. He argued that the officers had stopped him without reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime, thereby violating his rights under Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution.[1]

         At the suppression hearing, both officers testified about the circumstances that had led them to believe that they had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant. The trial court found their testimony to be credible.

         Moffitt testified that he believed that defendant "may have been involved with the disturbance" and "may have been the one yelling and threatening to break things at the home." Moffitt disagreed with the prosecutor's suggestion that the call implied that there was a "domestic disturbance, " explaining, "Well, there was a disturbance. It was never titled as a domestic. It was a disturbance. That there was somebody there, yes." Moffitt did not specify what crime he had believed that defendant had committed, but he testified that, "most likely from the call, " he believed that the officers "had a crime [that] had been committed in the residence, and [he] initially believed [that defendant] was [Wilson] walking away from the front of the house." Moffitt based that belief solely on the content of the disturbance call and the fact that defendant was a male walking down the driveway and away from the house.

         Although Moffitt stated in his testimony that he believed that defendant might have committed "a crime" in the house, Welsh eventually specified possible crimes that defendant might have committed. Welsh testified that, when he arrived at the residence, he believed that "maybe a crime had been committed" and that "there was probably something going on." He was responding to "an unknown-type call, but clearly a disturbance" in Velek's house. Welsh explained that, when responding to a call "that there's somebody in there threatening to start destroying stuff, " he would not know specifically what type of crime might have been committed; "it could be anything at that point." But in response to a suggestion by the prosecutor, Welsh proposed that possible crimes could include criminal mischief, menacing, and assault. He also testified that he had believed that he had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant when he saw defendant walking away from the house, because the officers "didn't know if [they] had a victim inside that was assaulted or what * * * his involvement was at that point."

         The trial court concluded that, when the officers had stopped defendant by directing him to return to the house, they had "reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, and it was reasonable to believe that [defendant] was that person who committed it." Accordingly, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress. ...

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