State of Utah v. Knight

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State v. Knight. Filed May 27, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

State of Utah,
Plaintiff and Appellee,


Steven Knight,
Defendant and Appellant.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 981046-CA

May 27, 1999
  1999 UT App 176 -----

Fourth District, Provo Department
The Honorable Anthony W. Schofield

Shelden R. Carter, Provo, for Appellant
Jan Graham and Kenneth A. Bronston, Salt Lake City, for Appellee


Before Judges Wilkins, Jackson, and Orme.

WILKINS, Presiding Judge:

Defendant, Steven Knight, challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence. Specifically, Knight argues that the warrant authorizing the search of his(1) storage unit was invalid because it was not properly signed, and without the evidence obtained in this search, the police lacked probable cause to search his residence. We disagree.

"'We review the factual findings underlying the trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to suppress evidence using a clearly erroneous standard.'" State v. Shepard, 955 P.2d 352, 354-55 (Utah Ct. App. 1998) (quoting State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 939 n.4 (Utah 1994) (additional citation omitted)). The trial court's conclusions of law based on these facts "are reviewed for correctness, with a measure of discretion given to the trial judge's application of the legal standard to the facts." State v. Moreno, 910 P.2d 1245, 1247 (Utah Ct. App. 1996).

In this case, the trial court acknowledged that the copy of the warrant produced at trial was not signed and therefore took evidence "to see whether or not [the original warrant was] signed." The trial court determined that, notwithstanding the prosecution's failure to produce a signed warrant at the suppression hearing, the warrant authorizing the search of the storage unit was signed and valid.(2) In so ruling, the trial court relied on the testimony of Officer Russell Billings who testified that he specifically recalled that the warrant authorizing the storage unit search was signed. In fact, Officer Billings testified that he was present when the magistrate approved and signed the warrant. He further testified that a return of warrant was properly filed with the clerk of the court and that he had never served an unsigned warrant.

Apparently, the trial court found the testimony of Officer Billings credible and persuasive because it denied Knight's motion to suppress concluding that "a valid search warrant [was] prepared for the search of the storage unit." This determination was clearly within the legitimate exercise of the trial court's discretion. See State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 936 (Utah 1994) (concluding trial court is free to accord whatever weight it deems appropriate to testimony of witness "because it is before that court that witnesses . . . appear and the evidence is adduced"); State v. Ashe, 745 P.2d 1255, 1258 (Utah 1987) (stating trial court is in superior position to assess weight of evidence, witnesses' demeanor and other factors bearing on credibility).

However, even assuming the warrant authorizing the storage unit search was invalid, there was sufficient probable cause to search Knight's residence without considering the evidence obtained in the storage unit search. See State v. Northrup, 756 P.2d 1288, 1293 (Utah Ct. App. 1988) (stating exclusionary rule has no application where evidence has been discovered by means wholly independent of any constitutional violation). Our review of the trial court's ruling focuses on whether it was permissible for the trial court to conclude that the magistrate had probable cause to issue the warrant in light of the totality of the circumstances. See State v. Miller, 740 P.2d 1363, 1366 (Utah Ct. App. 1987).

In this case, the trial court stated that the magistrate's probable cause determination "did not turn solely on the fact that the storage unit had been searched and that marijuana had been found there." Rather, "the affidavit in support of the search warrant for [Knight's residence] . . . cites information received by the affiant from two confidential informants." We have stated that "[a] search warrant may be issued when, under the totality[]of[]the[]circumstances, the information given by multiple confidential informants is sufficient to establish probable cause." See State v. Singleton, 854 P.2d 1017, 1020 (Utah Ct. App. 1993).

Here, one of the informants stated that a man known as Steve had been dealing marijuana for several years and often possessed large quantities of marijuana on his person and at his residence. In fact, this informant claimed that during the past week, he had observed Steve with large quantities of marijuana on his person. The trial court noted that the informants provided a "great deal of information" about Steve including his address and a description of his home. Officer Billings also corroborated this information and ultimately determined that the individual described by the informant was, in fact, Steven Knight.

The informants's observations also mesh with several statements made by Officer Billings. Officer Billings was aware that individuals involved in a marijuana transaction on December 21, 1995, were in possession of a handgun. One of the informants stated that Knight sometimes gave or received marijuana for handguns. Furthermore, this informant stated that the marijuana sale occurred at night, a time when Officer Billings was aware that Knight conducted most of his narcotic transactions. Thus, even if we do not consider the evidence obtained in the storage unit search, the affidavits support a determination of probable cause to search Knight's residence under the totality of the circumstances. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's denial of Knight's motion to suppress.


Michael J. Wilkins,
Presiding Judge



Gregory K. Orme, Judge

Norman H. Jackson, Judge

1. Although Knight initially declined to acknowledge a claim of interest in the storage unit establishing an expectation of privacy sufficient to challenge the constitutionality of the search, thereafter, both in the trial court and at argument before this court, Knight conceded the storage unit was his, as the trial court had noted in its decision.

2. While an objection based upon the best evidence rule may have produced a different result under these circumstances, no such objection appears in the record.