Hello Everyone! I’m Jacob Gifford, the newest addition to the Baldauf Masser Law Firm. Before I get into the details of this post, let me introduce myself! I’m currently a second-year law student at Concordia University School of Law here in Boise, Idaho. I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I graduated from Nevada State College with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and History. I’m married and have two little boys, and we have loved living in Boise since moving here in the summer of 2018. Boise is a wonderful place to live, learn, and grow and my family has surely appreciated that since moving here. I currently work with Johnathan and Andrew part-time as their legal assistant, and they are great mentors as I work to begin my career in the legal field.
This past summer, the Idaho Supreme Court handed down a ruling that dramatically affected the way Law Enforcement Officers in the State of Idaho could arrest individuals for misdemeanors not committed in their presence. State v. Clarke was a case that involved a misdemeanor battery arrest in Kootenai County. A woman was on the beach with her child and a man, Clarke, was harassing her throughout the day. The woman claimed that Clarke grabbed her “butt.” After her encounter, the woman called a police officer and gave the officer a description of what he looked like. The officer eventually found Clarke and he admitted to speaking with the woman and grabbing her “butt.” However, Clarke said that it was consensual while the woman claimed it wasn’t. The officer arrested Clarke for misdemeanor battery. Clarke was searched incident to arrest and the officer found illegal drugs and paraphernalia in his backpack. Suddenly, Clarke was not only being charged with misdemeanor battery, but with much more serious felony charges that could lead to prison time. All this stemming from the misdemeanor arrest for an act the officer never witnessed.
Clarke filed a motion to exclude the drug charges and argued that his arrest was unconstitutional under the federal and state constitutions. The District Court did not agree with Clarke, and he was found guilty of felony and misdemeanor drug offenses. His original battery charge, which caused all of Clarke’s problems in the first place, was dismissed for lack of evidence.
The issue the Supreme Court was looking at was whether a police officer violates Article I, Section 17 of the Idaho Constitution when they make an arrest for a misdemeanor that occurred outside their presence but when there was probable cause. This section has been historically interpreted in conjunction with Idaho Code section 19-603, which allows officers to make a warrantless arrest when a person has committed a public offense in their presence. In 1979, the Idaho Legislature added section 6 to the statute, which allowed officers to make a warrantless arrest when there was reasonable belief, or probable cause, that a misdemeanor assault or battery occurred not in the officer’s presence. The most common example this section was used for was domestic violence.
The Supreme Court looked at the intent of the framers of the Idaho Constitution, as well as the common law during the time period, to see how Article I section 17 of the constitution was meant to be interpreted. Back in 1889, when the Idaho Constitutional Convention occurred, it was the common practice in Idaho and neighboring states to prohibit warrantless arrests for misdemeanors. Therefore, Clarke was right. Although the Idaho Code allowed officers to make these types of arrests, the Idaho Constitution prohibited it. And since the Constitution trumps statutes, paragraph 6 of Idaho code section 19-603 was ruled unconstitutional.
Justice Horton, who wrote the Clarke opinion, explained “We are mindful of the significance of this conclusion. Domestic violence is a serious crime that causes substantial damage to victims and children. . . Nevertheless, the extremely powerful policy considerations which support upholding Idaho Code Section 19-603(6) must yield to the requirements of the Idaho Constitution.”
So, what does this mean? This decision made arrests for misdemeanors committed outside an Officer’s presence unconstitutional. If the legislature and governor believe the way officers conducted warrantless misdemeanor arrests under Idaho Code section 19-603(6) was the right way, then they would have to amend the Idaho Constitution. But for now, State v. Clarke is the presiding authority on this issue.
This decision doesn’t mean that officers can’t make arrests for misdemeanors they did not see themselves. Citizen’s arrest is one option for officers to make an arrest. This essentially allows the person who has been victimized to become their own arresting officer. Idaho Code Section 19-604 is the law that governs citizen’s arrests. Under this statute, a private person may arrest another for a public offense committed or attempted in his presence, and if that person committed a felony not in his presence, then there must be reasonable cause for believing that the person committed the felony. In practice, all this means is that if the citizen who reported the misdemeanor to the officer is willing to pursue misdemeanor charges, then the officer can arrest the accused person. The citizen must sign a sworn statement stating that they saw the misdemeanor occur and are willing to press charges on the suspect.
Another method officers can use to arrest individuals accused of misdemeanors is to obtain an arrest warrant. Officers can detain individuals based on reasonable suspicion. While the officers have an individual detained, the officers can reach out and request an arrest warrant to officially arrest the suspect. While a suspect is detained, they do not have to speak to the police. They can still invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, which is always the best way to approach situations like these. Law enforcement officers can also issue citations for misdemeanors not committed in their presence.
Pragmatically, both methods are not big hurdles for law enforcement officers. The Clarke decision ensures that officers are following the law and treating arrests in the serious manner that they ought to be. If you need help with a case involving a misdemeanor or any other criminal matter and would like to discuss, call Baldauf Masser at 208-295-2581 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.