Cruse v. State

In Cruse v. State, 584 P.2d 1141 (Alaska 1978), three young men in a white car caused trouble at an Anchorage drive-in theater, which attracted the attention of a theater employee. After obtaining permission to eject the young men, the employee returned to find the car leaving the theater. Minutes later, the cashier of the theater reported to the employee that he had just been robbed and provided a description matching the three young men in the white car. The two employees then provided police with a detailed description of the men, including body size and clothing, as well as a description of their car. A state trooper observed a white car matching the description suspiciously parked at a liquor store, a short distance away from the theater. The trooper then stopped the vehicle. The trooper, believing the suspects were under arrest, called for a wrecker to impound their vehicle. Following standard trooper policy, which was to inventory the contents of all vehicles impounded for other than evidentiary purposes, the trooper opened the trunk to inventory its contents. An Anchorage Police Department (APD) officer arrived at the same time the troopers were opening the trunk and observed a long-barreled revolver, a garden hose, and a brown paper bag. The APD officer then closed the trunk and informed the trooper that he wanted the car for evidence and that he needed to obtain a warrant to search the trunk (it was not APD policy to conduct inventory searches of impounded vehicles as a matter of course). The officer then prepared an affidavit for a search warrant. He and the assistant district attorney agreed not to tell the district court judge about the prior search until after the judge signed the warrant because they felt that sufficient probable cause supporting the warrant existed. The judge issued the warrant and the police performed a full search of the car. In Cruse v. State, 584 P.2d 1141 (Alaska 1978) a state trooper arrested several armed robbery suspects. Before turning the investigation over to an Anchorage police officer, the trooper searched the trunk of the suspect's car. The police officer saw incriminating evidence in the trunk and applied for a warrant, but agreed with the assistant district attorney not to disclose the prior search because there was sufficient other evidence to support a finding of probable cause. The warrant was issued, the evidence found, and Cruse was convicted. Cruse moved to suppress, and the trial court denied the motion. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. Assuming, without deciding, that the prior search of the trunk had been illegal, the court first noted that "the exclusionary rule would prohibit the use of both primary and derivative evidence gained from" the illegal search. But the court held that if the evidence "is gained from an independent source or has become 'so attenuated as to dissipate the taint,' it may be admissible." In Cruse, because the officer had sought the warrant based only on the information which "was obtained ... wholly independent of the initial trunk search," and not on any observations from the illegal search, the evidence they obtained came from "an independent and lawful source" and was therefore admissible. In Cruse v. State, 584 P.2d 1141 (Alaska 1978), the troopers arrested Cruse, along with some other suspects, for robbery. After the police had placed the suspects on the ground and away from the car, a state trooper, following standard trooper policy, opened the trunk of the car to inventory the contents. An Anchorage police sergeant arrived at the scene, observed the trooper opening the trunk, and observed evidence, including a brown bag and a long-barrel revolver in the trunk. The sergeant advised the trooper that the Anchorage Police Department would take charge of the case. He closed the trunk and obtained a warrant. The sergeant, following the advice of an assistant district attorney, concluded that there was sufficient probable cause to obtain a warrant without mentioning the prior search of the trunk. The sergeant therefore did not mention that the trooper had opened the trunk and that he had observed the contents of the trunk when he applied for the warrant. A magistrate issued the warrant and the police searched the car under the authority of the warrant. Cruse moved to suppress the evidence. The supreme court concluded that, even if the original search of the trunk by the police was illegal, the later search under the authority of the warrant was not tainted by the earlier search. The supreme court pointed out that the warrant was supported by probable cause and that all of the information which the police presented to obtain the warrant was unconnected to the earlier search. Furthermore, the earlier search had not influenced the police decision to obtain the warrant or influence the scope of the search, which the police conducted pursuant to the warrant. The supreme court pointed out that its use of the independent source doctrine did not offend judicial integrity by involving the courts in "the use of the fruits of illegal conduct." The court pointed out that the inventory search which the trooper conducted would have been permissible under the federal constitution. The supreme court therefore appears to have indicated that, while there might be limits to the application of the independent source doctrine, the independent source doctrine would certainly apply in cases in which the purported illegality was not egregious. In Cruse v. State, 584 P.2d 1141 (Alaska 1978), law enforcement officers opened the trunk of a vehicle and discovered evidence of a recently committed robbery. The police suspected that their search of the trunk might have been illegal, but they also believed that there was sufficient probable cause to justify a search of the trunk (even without knowing its contents), so the officers applied for a search warrant and did not tell the magistrate about the earlier discovery of the evidence. The magistrate issued the warrant, the vehicle was searched again, and the evidence was seized. Cruse was later convicted of robbery. On appeal, Cruse argued that the initial search of the trunk was unlawful, and that this unlawful search tainted the later search warrant. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that there was no need to decide whether the initial search of the trunk was lawful -- because, even if the initial search was unlawful, the later search warrant constituted an independent source for the evidence.