New Mexico v. Widmer (Published Opinion)Annotate this Case
Officers from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) approached Defendant Ronald Widmer in a Walgreens parking lot in the late evening. Defendant, accompanied by a woman, was trying to start a motor scooter. APD had received an anonymous tip concerning two persons and a scooter with an ignition that “appeared to be tampered with.” The officers suspected that the scooter was stolen. After briefly speaking with Defendant and the woman, officers ran Defendant’s personal identification information and the scooter’s vehicle identification number (VIN) through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to check for outstanding warrants and any stolen vehicle reports. NCIC did not return a stolen vehicle report but did report Defendant’s outstanding felony warrants for trafficking drugs. Officers placed Defendant in handcuffs while they awaited confirmation that the warrants were valid. While Defendant was in custody, but before he was advised of his Miranda rights, an officer asked him, “Is there anything on your person that I should know about?” Defendant responded, “I have meth.” Officers collected a white powder from inside a pill container hanging from Defendant’s belt loop and placed it in a plastic evidence bag. After officers recovered the physical evidence, Defendant muttered, “Well, I’m gonna have another charge now.” The white powder recovered from Defendant’s belt loop tested positive for methamphetamine. As a result, Defendant was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance. At issue before the New Mexico Supreme Court was whether the officer's question to Defendant was sufficiently related to protecting officer safety to qualify for the public safety exception to the admissibility requirements of Miranda, announced in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984). The Court of Appeals determined that the question in this case did not qualify for the Quarles public safety exception, reversed Defendant's conviction for possession of methamphetamine, and remanded for a new trial. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding the Quarles public safety exception applied in this case because of the need to determine whether Defendant was armed or carrying potentially harmful drug paraphernalia before officers performed a pat-down search. The Court of Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings.