Supreme Court rules search of Gillette man's home was unconstitutional

GILLETTE — The Wyoming Supreme Court has reversed a decision against a Gillette man and remanded the case back to District Court because a search of his home violated his constitutional rights.

Dillon Wayne Fuller, 31, had been sentenced to prison after a March 2019 case in which he refused to stop for a sheriff’s deputy who had seen that the SUV he was driving had no visible registration.

He was charged with felony possession of marijuana, felony drunken driving and two misdemeanors.

He made conditional guilty pleas to the two felonies, reserving the right to appeal.

After the deputy turned on his emergency lights to stop the vehicle at about 3:30 a.m., the SUV sped up from 35 mph to 40 mph and went about four blocks before parking at an apartment complex. The driver jumped out of the vehicle, looked at the deputy and ran into an apartment despite the deputy’s admonishments to stop.

The deputy called for backup and talked to the passenger in the vehicle. When other officers arrived a few minutes later, they kicked in the barricaded door to Fuller’s apartment after he refused to open it, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Marijuana and drug paraphernalia were in plain view. He also showed signs of intoxication.

Fuller filed a motion to suppress all evidence found in his apartment, claiming that the officers’ warrantless entry violated his Fourth Amendment rights that prohibit unreasonable search and seizure.

District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke denied the motion, saying that the search was reasonable because the officers had probable cause to arrest Fuller for driving without a registration, eluding and interference, and also because the deputy was engaged in a “hot pursuit” of Fuller — a legal description that requires not only some sort of chase but also involved an emergency that required immediate police action, according to the court.

They did not find that emergency existed in Fuller’s case.

In making his decision to deny the motion to suppress evidence, Rumpke pointed out that having no visible registration and eluding police are “jailable offenses,” and that Fuller “repeatedly and quickly escalated his criminal behavior.”

“In a matter of minutes, (Mr. Fuller) went from not having a properly displayed vehicle registration to trying to elude the police in a vehicle to running away from a deputy sheriff as he attempted to make an arrest. Under these facts, the ‘hot pursuit’ doctrine applies and prohibits rewarding (Mr. Fuller) for escalating his criminal behavior and avoids penalizing law enforcement for apprehending a suspect who by his own actions drew law enforcement into his home,” Rumpke wrote.

The court found that the break in time when the deputy spoke with the passenger and waited for backup showed that there was no “hot pursuit.” Fuller also had not put anyone in danger and had threatened no physical harm that would have necessitated a warrantless entry, the Supreme Court justices said.

“Indeed, by retreating into his apartment, any danger he posed to the community by driving without a visible registration and in excess of the speed limit had dissipated,” the court said.

“While Mr. Fuller was eventually arrested and charged with driving under the influence and possession of marijuana, the evidence supporting those charges was not discovered until after the officers unlawfully entered Mr. Fuller’s apartment,” the court said.

Fuller was sentenced in 2020 to two to four years in prison for possession of marijuana and three to five years for driving while under the influence of alcohol, both felonies to be served concurrently. He had three prior convictions for possession and three prior convictions for DUI, making the latest charges felonies.

Rumpke also sentenced him to four to six years in prison for a second felony DUI charge, to be served consecutively to the other two.