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State v. Matalonis

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

February 10, 2016

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent-Petitioner,
v.
Charles V. Matalonis, Defendant-Appellant

Argued September 18, 2015.

Editorial Note:

This pagination accurately reflects the pagination of the original published document, though the page numbers of this document may appear to be out of sequence.

REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals. (L.C. No. 2012CF81). COURT: Circuit. COUNTY: Kenosha. JUDGE: Wilber W. Warren, III.

For the plaintiff-respondent-petitioner, the case was argued by Donald V. Latorraca, assistant attorney general, with whom on the briefs was Brad D. Schimel, attorney general.

For the defendant-appellant, there was a brief by Mark D. Richards, Brian P. Dimmer and Mark D. Richards, S.C., Racine, and oral arguments by Mark D. Richards.

ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER, J. SHIRLEY S. ABRAHAMSON, J. (dissenting). DAVID T. PROSSER, J. (dissenting).

OPINION

[366 Wis.2d 569] ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER, J.

This is a review of an unpublished decision of the court of appeals, State v. Matalonis, No. 2014AP108-CR, 2015 WI App 13, 359 Wis.2d 675, 859 N.W.2d 628, unpublished slip op. (Wis. Ct.App. Dec. 23, 2014), which reversed the Kenosha County circuit court's[1] judgment of conviction and order denying defendant Charles V. Matalonis's (" Matalonis" ) motion to suppress evidence of marijuana production in Matalonis's home. Police obtained this evidence while investigating the source of injuries sustained by Matalonis's brother, Antony.

We are asked to determine whether a warrantless search by police of Matalonis's home, including, importantly, of a room secured by a locked, blood-spattered door, was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution. The State argues that the police officers in this case acted reasonably on the night in question because (1) the police officers were reasonably exercising a bona fide " community caretaker" function in ensuring the absence of injured persons in the home; and (2) the police officers reasonably believed that a protective sweep of the home was necessary to guarantee their own safety.

We conclude that the officers in this case reasonably exercised a bona fide community caretaker function when they searched Matalonis's home. The officers therefore were not required to obtain a warrant prior to conducting the search in question, and the evidence of marijuana production they obtained should not be suppressed. Because the search was lawful under the community caretaker doctrine, we need not determine whether the search was also justified as a protective [366 Wis.2d 570] sweep. We reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand the case to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On January 15, 2012, at about 2:45 a.m., Officers Brian Ruha (" Officer Ruha" ) and David Yandel (" Officer Yandel" ) of the Kenosha Police Department were dispatched for a medical call to the upper unit of an address on 45th Street in Kenosha.[2] When Officer Ruha arrived at the address, he observed " what appeared to be blood all over the door." He knocked on the door, entered, and there met Antony Matalonis (" Antony" ). Antony looked as though " he may have been battered[; ] . . . his whole right side of his body was covered in blood." Additionally, Antony seemed " highly intoxicated." Antony initially told Officer Ruha that he had been beaten up by four different groups of people outside of a bar, but some time later said that he was beaten up by four people outside of a bar. The resident at the address told Officer Ruha that Antony lived down the street with his brother. Antony was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.

Officer Yandel arrived at the address as Antony was being placed in the ambulance. Officer Yandel " could tell that [Antony] had a bloody face. [Antony] had blood on his shirt. He seemed pretty beat up." Officer Yandel went to the back door leading to the upper unit of the residence, and " noticed a large amount of blood that led up the stairwell to that apartment."

After the ambulance departed, Officer Ruha and Officer Yandel " checked the surrounding area to determine where [the] blood had originated from" in order to " find out where [Antony] came from . . . and if anyone else was even involved," because the resident of the upper apartment had explained that Antony had arrived at the residence already injured. There was snow on the ground, and the officers found a single " blood trail" in the snow, which they followed.

The blood led to the side door of a residence on Fifth Avenue. " There was blood on a screen door and then on the inside of the screen door. And there was another wooden door, and there was blood on that door as well." The officers heard two loud bangs coming from inside the residence that sounded to Officer Yandel like " [t]hings being shuffled around in the house." [3]

The officers then called for backup because, according to Officer Ruha, " we had no idea what was going on inside the residence," and according to Officer Yandel, because " [i]t's protocol in case we had to enter that residence to check the welfare [366 Wis.2d 571] of anybody if we couldn't make contact. It was a pretty significant amount of blood, and we were concerned that maybe somebody was injured inside."

The officers went to the front door of the residence and knocked on the door. Matalonis " answered the door without a shirt on. He didn't appear to be injured at all, but he appeared to be out of breath." He was not intoxicated but " seemed pretty upset about something." Officer Yandel " noticed there was blood in the foyer on the floor" as well as " blood to the right which led up to a stairwell." Matalonis testified that he had been cleaning up blood when the officers arrived.

The officers asked Matalonis who lived at the residence and Matalonis responded that he lived alone. The officers told Matalonis about the injured individual they had met and the blood trail leading to the side door of Matalonis's house. Matalonis explained that he had been in a fight with his brother Antony, but that his brother had left. According to Officer Yandel's police report, Matalonis stated, " Yeah, my brother left already. It was just me and my brother fighting. I just had to do what I had to do to defend myself but he's gone now." The officers told Matalonis " that because there was blood in the house, [they] just wanted to make sure that no one else was injured." Matalonis let the officers into the house.[4]

Once the officers were inside the house, they directed Matalonis to sit on the couch in his living room.[5] The officers did not place Matalonis in handcuffs or tell him that he was under arrest. Officer Yandel did not frisk Matalonis.[6] Officer Ruha then conducted a search of the residence " to make sure that no one else was inside the house or even injured in the house that needed medical attention" while Officer Yandel stayed behind with Matalonis. At no time did Officer Yandel point a weapon at Matalonis.

Officer Ruha began his search on the lower level of the house, where the officers and Matalonis were located. He found " a couple drops of blood" in the living room,[7] and then moved into the kitchen where he found " another couple drops of blood." A bucket of water and a mop were in the kitchen. Officer Ruha went to the basement area but " didn't locate any blood down there." [8] Officer [366 Wis.2d 572] Ruha returned to the lower level and proceeded up the stairs to the second floor. On the stairs to the second floor " there [were] what appeared to be droplets of blood on the carpet and blood smeared all along the wall leading upstairs."

Upstairs, " [t]here appeared to be blood all over the handrail. There was a mirror that was down that was broken. There [were] shards laying all over the floor." Officer Ruha moved into a " little living area" to his left, but " didn't locate anyone in there." He did, however, observe " various pipes and other smoking utensils used for smoking marijuana." This included " a small silver grinder that lay opened on the coffee table containing a green leafy substance that [Officer Ruha] identified as marijuana through [his] training and experience." Then he continued right, and " saw that there was a door with a deadbolt that had blood splatters on the door itself." [9] Officer Ruha tried unsuccessfully to open the door, which was locked. He then moved past the door and into a bathroom. There were no individuals in the bathroom, but Officer Ruha saw a " ceramic water bong used for smoking marijuana." Officer Ruha went back to the locked door, where he " could not hear anyone inside, but . . . did smell a strong odor of marijuana coming through [the] door and . . . heard a fan running." Officer Ruha testified that at that point he was " interested in knowing that there's no one injured behind that door." [10] Since he " realized that [the locked room] was the only place [he] could not get into to check," Officer Ruha went back downstairs to ask Matalonis for the key to the room in order " to ensure that no one is injured behind that door."

While Officer Ruha was searching the house, Officer Yandel asked Matalonis about the fight he had had with his brother Antony. Matalonis described what had happened. He also mentioned that somebody lived in the basement of the house. At some point in their conversation, Matalonis asked Officer Yandel " if, while they were doing their sweep [of the house], [he] could continue cleaning up the blood from the fight." According to Matalonis, Officer Yandel did not allow him to do so, but instead told Matalonis that he " had to stay [366 Wis.2d 573] right where [he was] and to not get up." [11]

Officer Ruha returned to the living room. According to Matalonis, Officer Ruha's search took " 10 to 15 minutes." Testimony regarding the conversation that followed differed slightly when recounted by Matalonis, Officer Ruha, and Officer Yandel. According to Matalonis, Officer Ruha asked Matalonis what was in the locked room. Matalonis responded that the room was " a security room where I keep my valuables." [12] Officer Ruha then " said he needed to get in the room, and he was going to kick the door down unless [Matalonis] told him where the key was." At some point during the conversation, according to Matalonis, Officer Ruha asked whether there was anyone else in the room or made clear that " [h]e wanted to go and look for bodies in that room."

According to Officer Yandel, Officer Ruha " asked what was in that room, said that he noticed that there was blood on that door and said that he would have to check that room to make sure no one was injured in there." Officer Yandel then " noticed [Matalonis's] breathing started becoming faster. He looked nervous to me. Officer Ruha told him he was going to kick the door in unless he had a key." At some unspecified point in the conversation Matalonis told the officers the room " was a security room and he had some security equipment in there," that he kept the room locked, and that no one was in the room. Additionally, at some point in the conversation Officer Ruha informed Officer Yandel that he had found drug paraphernalia and marijuana upstairs.[13]

According to Officer Ruha, upon his return to the living room, " I asked [Matalonis] where the key to the door was. I gave him the options of [sic] I needed to ensure that no one was injured inside [the locked] room. There's blood on the door. Either I need to know where the key's at or I'm going to kick the door in." [14] Matalonis said he would not consent to the officers' entry into the room, and " said it was a security room for his security cameras."

Matalonis testified that approximately 20 minutes had elapsed between the officers' initial entry into Matalonis's home and the moment that Officer Ruha asked Matalonis for the key to the locked room. The officers obtained the key to the room[15] after waiting for a certain amount [366 Wis.2d 574] of time.[16] Officer Ruha testified that the key was located next to an aquarium on the second floor, and that there was a bag of marijuana next to the key. Matalonis testified that the key was not hidden and was kept in a red cup on top of the aquarium, " probably five to six feet" away from the locked door.[17]

According to Officer Ruha, Officer Ruha went back upstairs,[18] unlocked the locked room, announced " Kenosha Police," and entered the room. " A large marijuana plant was being grown as soon as you opened the door. It was a pretty sophisticated system." No one was present in the room.

Officer Ruha returned downstairs. Matalonis was still sitting in the living room on the couch. Officer Ruha asked Matalonis about the marijuana. Matalonis " said the plants were his and he didn't wish to talk any further about the plants." Officer Ruha then spoke with him about the fight between him and his brother. Matalonis eventually asked to speak with a lawyer and was arrested later that night. At some point " [a]fter the residence was secured and [the officers] found no one else injured or hurt inside [the] house," the officers attempted to obtain a search warrant but were denied the warrant. Officer Ruha testified that " [w]hatever [evidence] we found in plain view, we took," and that after the search warrant was denied he " didn't open any drawers or go any further into the house and look for anything else."

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 17, 2012, the State filed a criminal complaint against Matalonis, charging him with possession of drug paraphernalia, contrary to Wis. Stat. § 961.573(1) (2011-12),[19] possession of tetrahydrocannabinols (" THC" ), contrary to § 961.41(3g)(e), and manufacture or delivery of THC in an amount not more than 200 grams or four plants, contrary to § 961.41(1)(h). On November 28, 2012, Matalonis filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized in the search of his residence as unconstitutionally conducted without a warrant and without consent. On April 4, 2013, a hearing on Matalonis's suppression motion was held in Kenosha County circuit court. The circuit court denied Matalonis's motion. The court concluded in part:

The search there once inside the house was not directed at finding evidence but for protective search and for injured parties. . . . [The officers] [366 Wis.2d 575] searched only in areas where there was blood found and they didn't search drawers or places where obviously people could not hide but only rooms and larger areas where bodies might be found.
. . .
[T]here was blood on the door. . . . So it was reasonable for them to extend their search for injured parties to that area. Again, with someone who is bleeding, someone who is taken away by ambulance, to have a locked door in a house with blood on that door and not search behind that door and to later find that there's a dead body or a bleeding body or a person in need of medical assistance behind that door I think would not only be improper, it would be a sign of poor police work.[20]

On May 15, 2013, Matalonis pleaded no contest to the charge of manufacture or delivery of THC in an amount not more than 200 grams or four plants; the two other charges were dismissed and read in for purposes of sentencing. On June 28, 2013, the court withheld sentence and placed Matalonis on probation for 18 months. On January 14, 2014, Matalonis filed a notice of appeal.

On December 23, 2014, the court of appeals reversed the circuit court's judgment of conviction and order denying Matalonis's motion to suppress, and remanded the case to the circuit court to suppress the evidence resulting from the warrantless search. See State v. Matalonis, No. 2014AP108-CR, 2015 WI App 13, 359 Wis.2d 675, 859 N.W.2d 628, unpublished slip op., ¶ 37 (Wis. Ct.App. Dec. 23, 2014). The court of appeals concluded that the officers were not exercising a bona fide community caretaker function. See id., ¶ ¶ 25, 31.

The court of appeals stated that the police were required to possess, under the totality of the circumstances, " an 'objectively reasonable basis' to believe there [was] 'a member of the public who [was] in need of assistance.'" Id., ¶ 15 (quoting State v. Ultsch, 2011 WI App 17, ¶ 15, 331 Wis.2d 242, 793 N.W.2d 505). The court analyzed two cases in which officers were found to be exercising a bona fide community caretaker function, State v. Gracia, 2013 WI 15, 345 Wis.2d 488, 826 N.W.2d 87, and State v. Pinkard, 2010 WI 81, 327 Wis.2d 346, 785 N.W.2d 592. It also examined two cases in which officers were found not to be exercising a bona fide community caretaker function, State v. Maddix, 2013 WI App 64, 348 Wis.2d 179, 831 N.W.2d 778, and State v. Ultsch, 2011 WI App 17, 331 Wis.2d 242, 793 N.W.2d 505. The court concluded:

In Pinkard and Gracia, the officers had specific concerns about the welfare of people known to be present in the homes when the officers entered the homes. However, the present case is more similar to Maddix in that the officers in this case did not have before them any evidence pointing " concretely to the possibility that a member of the public was in need of assistance" inside Matalonis's home.

Matalonis, 2015 WI App 13, 359 Wis.2d 675, 859 N.W.2d 628, unpublished slip op., ¶ 24 (quoting State v. Maddix, 2013 WI App 64, ¶ 27, 348 Wis.2d 179, 831 N.W.2d 778). The court of appeals recognized that there were " conflicting versions of how Matalonis's brother sustained his injuries" but added that " in no version is there reference to [366 Wis.2d 576] any other person being injured." Id. Ultimately, the court decided, " A mere possibility that another person may be injured without any other evidence that concretely points to the possibility that a member of the public required assistance does not meet the more demanding objective reasonable basis standard." Id., ¶ 25 (citing Ultsch, 331 Wis.2d 242, ¶ 15).

The court further held that, assuming the officers were acting as community caretakers, id., ¶ 31, their exercise of that function was not reasonable because " the public's interest in the intrusion was minimal and . . . did not outweigh the substantial intrusion upon Matalonis's privacy interest in his home." Id., ¶ 36. In particular, any exigency that existed " diminished significantly once the officers were informed by Matalonis that he had been involved in a fight with his brother and that his brother had left," and " by the time the officers reached the locked door, which at best revealed only very minor streaks of blood on the door's surface and on the doorknob, a reasonable officer would have suspected that Matalonis was the only person in the residence." Id., ¶ 32. Additionally, " the degree of authority and force displayed by the officers in this case was considerable." Id., ¶ 33.

Finally, the court determined that the officers' search did not constitute a lawful protective sweep because " the evidence before the officers did not provide an objectively reasonable basis for the officers to believe their safety was at risk." Id., ¶ ¶ 29-30.[21]

On January 22, 2015, the State filed a petition for review in this court. On April 17, 2015, we granted the petition.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When we review an order granting or denying a motion to suppress evidence, we are presented with a question of constitutional fact requiring application of a two-step analysis. State v. Robinson, 2010 WI 80, ¶ 22, 327 Wis.2d 302, 786 N.W.2d 463 (citations omitted). " First, we review the circuit court's findings of historical fact under a deferential standard, upholding them unless they are clearly erroneous. Second, we independently apply constitutional principles to those facts." Id. (citations omitted).

IV. ANALYSIS

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution prohibit " unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV; Wis. Const. art. 1, § 11. " [W]arrantless searches of homes are presumptively unreasonable." Robinson, 327 Wis.2d 302, ¶ 24 (citation omitted). As we have noted, however, " the nature of a police officer's work is multifaceted." State v. Kramer, 2009 WI 14, ¶ 32, 315 Wis.2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598. Put differently,

Police officers wear many hats: criminal investigator, first aid provider, social worker, crisis intervener, family counselor, youth mentor and peacemaker, to name a few. They are charged with the duty to protect people, not just from criminals, but also from accidents, natural perils and even self-inflicted injuries. We ask them to protect our property from all types of losses--even those occasioned by our own negligence. They counsel our youth. They quell disputes between husband and wife, parent and [366 Wis.2d 577] child, landlord and tenant, merchant and patron and quarreling neighbors. Although they search for clues to solve crime, they also search for missing children, parents, dementia patients, and occasionally even an escaped zoo animal. They are society's problem solvers when no other solution is apparent or available.

Ortiz v. State, 24 So.3d 596, 607 n.5 (Fla. Dist. Ct.App. 2009) (Torpy, J., concurring and concurring specially).

We have acknowledged that " a police officer serving as a community caretaker to protect persons and property may be constitutionally permitted to perform warrantless searches and seizures." State v. Pinkard, 2010 WI 81, ¶ 14, 327 Wis.2d 346, 785 N.W.2d 592. An officer's community caretaker function is " totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute." Kramer, 315 Wis.2d 414, ¶ ¶ 19, 23 (quoting Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973)).[22] That is, an officer's community caretaker function is distinct from the officer's law enforcement function. See Pinkard, 327 Wis.2d 346, ¶ ¶ 18, 31 (citation omitted). In sum, we need not invalidate a warrantless search of a residence if the search was conducted pursuant to a police officer's reasonable exercise of a bona fide community caretaker function. See id., ¶ ¶ 28-29.

Our community caretaker analysis is the same under both the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions. State v. Gracia, 2013 WI 15, ¶ 14, 345 Wis.2d 488, 826 N.W.2d 87 (citation omitted). As always, " [t]he ultimate standard set forth in the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Pinkard, 327 Wis.2d 346, ¶ 13 (citing Cady, 413 U.S. at 439). However, we analyze the reasonableness of a residential search alleged to be justified under the community caretaker doctrine using a three-step test:

(1) whether a search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has occurred; (2) if so, whether the police were exercising a bona fide community caretaker function; and (3) if so, whether the public interest outweighs the intrusion upon the privacy of the individual such that the community caretaker function was reasonably exercised within the context of a home.

Id., ¶ 29 (footnote omitted) (citation omitted). The State bears the burden of proving that these factors have been met. Id. (citation omitted).

With regard to the second step,

When evaluating whether a community caretaker function is bona fide, we examine the totality of the circumstances as they existed at the time of the police conduct. In so doing . . . the " totally divorced" language from Cady does not mean that if the police officer has any subjective law enforcement concerns, he cannot be engaging in a valid community caretaker function. Rather, . . . in a community caretaker context, when under the totality of the circumstances an objectively reasonable basis for the community caretaker function is shown, that determination is not negated by the officer's subjective law enforcement concerns.

Kramer, 315 Wis.2d 414, ¶ 30 (citations omitted).

[366 Wis.2d 578] The third step requires us to " balance the public interest or need that is furthered by the officers' conduct against the degree and nature of the intrusion on the citizen's constitutional interest." Pinkard, 327 Wis.2d 346, ΒΆ 41 (citation omitted). ...


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