Chilton v. State

In Chilton v. State, 611 P.2d 53 (Alaska 1980) the supreme court revisited Pistro v. State, 590 P.2d 884 (Alaska 1979) to decide whether police officers conducted an unconstitutional search when they followed a footpath to an area behind an apartment building. The officers were on a public stairwell when they heard voices coming from an area where they had previously encountered people smoking marijuana. The officers went through a gap in the handrail down a beaten path that dead-ended near the rear of an apartment building. From this vantage point, the officers observed the defendant through a window snorting cocaine. The supreme court first held that the officers did not have probable cause to enter the private property of the apartment building, and then examined whether the pathway was impliedly open to public use. The supreme court observed that there was nothing in the record regarding the condition of the path at the time of the search, nor any evidence regarding how the path was created, or who might have been authorized to use it. Because the burden was on the State to show that the officers were lawfully positioned when they made their observations, the court found that the officers' observations were the product of illegal conduct and reversed Chilton's conviction.