Noteworthy Cases

May 2015
Melene James v. City of Boise, et al.

The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of an excessive force claim and various state law claims against the City and multiple Boise police officers in connection with the use of a police dog during a burglary investigation.

The Plaintiff, Ms. James, was the subject of a 911 call one Sunday evening in December, 2010 after a citizen reported seeing an intoxicated woman crawling through a broken basement window into a closed dental office. The first officer to arrive on scene observed the broken window and briefly glimpsed a woman in the basement. Another responding officer contacted the building owner and learned no one should be in the building at that time. Officers gained entry to the building by obtaining a key from either the building owner or the cleaning lady, both of whom came to the scene. Officers made several loud, recorded announcements before, during, and after entry into the building in an attempt to get the woman to exit peacefully. She did not respond to any of the announcements, despite the inclusion of warnings about use of a police dog that were followed by the dog's loud barking in the building. Officers searched the building with the police dog and the dog ultimately located Ms. James in the basement. The dog bit her and held her until officers were able to clear her of weapons. It subsequently came to light that Ms. James had the permission of a building tenant to use the basement.

Ms. James brought several claims against the City and responding police officers premised upon the assertion that police should have known who she was and why she was in the building such that their use of any force against her (use of the police dog) was unnecessary. The district court and then the Idaho Supreme Court disagreed with Ms. James, finding instead that investigating officers acted in an objectively reasonable manner based upon the information available to them. Specifically, the Supreme Court stated officers had probable cause to believe that a burglary was in progress at the dental office and they were entitled to qualified immunity from Ms. James' excessive force claim. Finally, the Court awarded attorney fees and costs to the City on appeal as the prevailing party.

June 2014
State of Idaho v. Wade Allen Tomlinson

The Honorable Judge Michael McLaughlin upheld the Magistrate Court's ruling in the City's favor that evidence of impairment, rising and/or descending blood alcohol content (BAC) levels, and measurement of uncertainty in breathalyzer instruments are irrelevant in a prosecution forper se driving under the influence.

The Defendant was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in the underlying case.  The State elected to proceed on a per se basis, that is, the City alleged the Defendant was guilty of DUI by having a blood alcohol content test result that was above the legal limit of 0.08. The State argued, and the Court agreed, that because the only issue in a per se DUI is whether or not the test results were above a 0.08, evidence of impairment, rising and/or descending BAC levels, and measurement of uncertainty in the breathalyzer instrument was irrelevant.  The jury found the Defendant guilty of DUI.

The Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the District Court had erred in excluding such evidence as irrelevant.  The District Court, like the Magistrate Court, agreed with the City that such evidence is irrelevant in a per se DUI prosecution.

The Defendant has now appealed to the Idaho Court of Appeals.  That appeal is still pending.

June 2014
State of Idaho v. Hunter

Defendant was stopped for driving without headlights and admitted to drinking alcohol.  A Boise Police officer had Defendant perform three standardized field sobriety tests.  Defendant failed the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test but passed the walk-and-turn test and one-leg-stand test.  The police officer arrested Defendant for DUI and conducted a breath test which registered a breath alcohol concentration of .090 and .088.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress, asserting that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to arrest him.  The Magistrate Court agreed, and suppressed Defendant's breath test.  It held that the arresting officer placed too much weight on the HGN test because the other roadside tests rendered the HGN unreliable and therefore, the officer lacked probable cause to arrest Defendant.

The Idaho Court of Appeals reversed.  It explained that although Defendant did not fail each of the field sobriety tests, the remaining information was sufficient to supply probable cause to arrest.  Here, the other evidence included Defendant driving without headlights for several blocks.  The officer also noted the odor of alcohol on Defendant's breath and that Defendant's eyes were glassy and bloodshot.  Defendant also admitted that he had been drinking, was coming from a bar, and had consumed 3 vodka tonics.  Defendant failed the HGN test and although he did not fail other tests, he did show some indicia of intoxication on the others. The Court of Appeals held that under the totality of the circumstances, an officer is not required to ignore other indicia of intoxication when an individual partially performs well on field sobriety
tests.  The case was remanded and set for trial.

 June 2013
917 Lusk LLC v. City of Boise

The Honorable Judge Kathryn Sticklen upheld the City Council's April 17, 2012, decision approving a Conditional Use Permit for a height exception to construct a five story multi-family residential building located at 1004 W. Royal Boulevard.

The Petitioner,917 Lusk LLC, owned the building next to the proposed development and asserted that the City didn't properly consider the effects a height increase would have on parking in the Lusk Street area.  Their argument was that allowing the building to be taller meant there would be more floors and thus more apartment units created.  As a result of more apartment units being created, parking spots available for the established residents would be decreased thereby making the proposed development incompatible with the neighborhood. 

The Court was not swayed by the Petitioner's argument, noting that the City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission spent ample time considering the parking issue after hearing testimony about its effects - thereby satisfying both procedural and due process claims.  The Court ultimately dispensed with the case by way ofHawkins v. Bonneville Co, 151 Idaho 228 (2011), which held that the non-applicant appellant has no interest in seeing another person's land use application adjudicated correctly; that they must show some harm to their own substantial rights.  The Court ruled917 Lusk LLCshowed no such particularized harm. 


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