STATE v. RICARDO CORREA, SC 20246

Judicial District of Stamford

 

       Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether Warrantless Search Conducted by Canine Sniff Outside Door of Defendant's Motel Room Constituted an Illegal Search Under State Constitution; Whether Police Officer's Warrantless Visual Sweep of Defendant's Motel Room Justified by Exigent Circumstances.  While conducting surveillance at a motel, the police observed what appeared to be a drug transaction being conducted out of the defendant's motel room.  The police conducted a canine examination of the walkway of the motel and, after the dog alerted at the bottom of the door to the defendant's room that it had detected contraband, the police applied for a warrant to search the room.  Prior to obtaining the warrant, the police detained the defendant, and an officer used his room key to open the door to look inside his room.  The police officer, in conducting a visual sweep of the room, observed evidence of drug activity.  The police subsequently executed the search warrant for the room and discovered a large quantity of heroin and other items consistent with drug trafficking.  The defendant was charged with several drug offenses, and he filed a motion to suppress the evidence, claiming that the police officer's warrantless visual sweep of his motel room constituted an illegal search under both the federal and state constitutions.  The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and the defendant entered a nolo contendere plea to the charges conditioned on his right to appeal.  On appeal, the defendant, relying on State v. Kono, 324 Conn. 80 (2016), claimed that the warrantless dog sniff outside the door to his motel room violated article first, § 7 of the state constitution.  In Kono, the Supreme Court held that a warrantless canine sniff of the front door of the defendant's condominium and an adjacent common hallway, which were located in multiunit condominium complex, for the purpose of detecting marijuana violated article first, § 7.  The Appellate Court (185 Conn. App. 308) affirmed the defendant's conviction, finding that Kono was distinguishable and that the defendant did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy on the outside of the door to his motel room.  It noted that the hallway in Kono was located inside a condominium complex structure and was accessible only by a keycard, whereas the open, shared walkway of the motel here was located outside of the structure and was visible to and accessible by any member of the public.   The Appellate Court also rejected the defendant's claim that the trail court had wrongly determined that the warrantless visual sweep of his motel room was justified under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.  It ruled that, under the facts here, the police had ample reason to believe that, in the absence of swift action in opening the door to the room and performing a visual sweep, there was a significant risk of destruction of evidence.  The defendant was granted certification to appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the police canine sniff that took place outside of the defendant's motel room did not violate the defendant's rights under article first, § 7 of the state constitution.  The Supreme Court will also decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the visual sweep of the defendant's motel room was justified by exigent circumstances.