IN COURT OF APPEALS
Samuel Patrick Morin,
Jason David Porteous,
James Luc Robert Drummond,
Jessica Joy Johnson,
Filed June 26, 2007
Affirmed in part and reversed in part
Beltrami County District Court
File No. T1-05-3963
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800
Alan R. Felix,
Matthew E. Johnson, Special Assistant State Public Defender, 600 U.S. Bank Plaza South, 220 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellants)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
A conviction for obstructing legal process under Minn. Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(2) (2004) requires that the person intentionally commit a physical or oral act directed at the peace officer that obstructs, resists, or interferes with the officer’s performance of official duties.
O P I N I O N
In this consolidated appeal, four appellants challenge their convictions of consumption of alcohol by a minor, and one appellant challenges an additional conviction of possession of marijuana, arguing that the district court erred in denying their joint motion to suppress. Additionally, one appellant challenges a conviction of obstruction of legal process on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction. Because the district court properly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to suppress, we affirm the convictions of consumption of alcohol and possession of marijuana. But the evidence is not sufficient to support the conviction of obstruction of legal process, and, therefore, we reverse that conviction.
an evening in September 2005, appellants had a party. At about 2:00 in the morning,
The officer opened the back door and pursued Johnson up the stairs, and when he knocked on a bedroom door he encountered Drummond and a female companion. The officer asked the female if she was the person he chased up the stairs, but she denied any involvement. Drummond argued with the officer regarding his right to be in the residence, refused to answer questions or produce identification, and attempted to shut the door in the officer’s face. Drummond was then arrested and searched; drug paraphernalia and a small amount of marijuana were recovered. Drummond was later charged with possession of marijuana and obstructing legal process.
The officer proceeded to the other bedroom and located Johnson and Porteous. Johnson first denied being the individual the officer pursued but later admitted, “I don’t know why I ran.” Johnson, Porteous, and Drummond were escorted downstairs where Morin was located, and all were tested for consumption of alcohol. Each was later charged with consumption of alcohol by a minor. Johnson was also charged with obstructing legal process.
Appellants moved to suppress the evidence obtained by the police as the result of a warrantless search of their residence. Following a hearing, the district court denied the motion. The parties stipulated to a Lothenbach proceeding, and the district court found appellants guilty of the crimes charged. The district court imposed ten-day sentences for each appellant, which were stayed pending appeal. This appeal follows.
1. Did the district court err by denying appellants’ motion to suppress the evidence?
2. Was there sufficient evidence to convict Johnson of obstruction of legal process under Minn. Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(2) (2004)?
argue that the district court erred in denying their joint motion to suppress
the evidence. On appeal from a ruling on a motion to
suppress evidence, this court independently reviews the facts and determines,
as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in suppressing—or not
suppressing—the evidence. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (
Police in hot
pursuit of a fleeing suspect do not need a warrant before entering a dwelling that
the fleeing suspect has entered. State v. Koziol, 338 N.W.2d 47, 48 (
Appellants do not
challenge the district court’s finding that the officer had probable cause to
arrest Johnson because she was fleeing a police officer. But appellants do argue that the alleged
offense was not sufficiently serious to satisfy the exigent-circumstances
exception to a warrantless search. Appellants
rely heavily on the case of Welsh v.
In State v. Paul, the Minnesota Supreme
Court examined the holding of Welsh v.
Wisconsin. In Paul, the court upheld a conviction of driving under the influence
of alcohol, holding, inter alia, that a police officer in hot pursuit of a
person suspected of driving under the influence who has set the arrest in
motion may make a warrantless entry into a suspect’s home to effectuate the arrest. 548 N.W.2d at 265. The Paul
court held that Welsh was factually
distinguishable in two significant ways.
First, unlike Welsh, the
officer in Paul was in “hot pursuit”
of the defendant.
sought to thwart the investigation by running from the scene and hiding in the
house. Like Paul, the officer in this case had set the arrest of Johnson in
motion and was in “hot pursuit.”
Specifically, the officer yelled “police” and orderedJohnson to “stop” several times. The efforts by the officer to stop and
question Johnson, based on his reasonable, articulable suspicion that she had
material information about the fight, escalated into a criminal offense when
she attempted to flee the scene and evade the officer. See
Second, the Paul court distinguished Welsh on the ground that the offense in Paul was serious, which it classified as
a criminal offense for which imprisonment is possible. Paul,
548 N.W.2d at 267. In contrast, Welsh involved a civil-forfeiture
offense for which no imprisonment was possible.
Here, the offense of “fleeing on foot” under Minn. Stat. § 609.487,
subd. 6 (Supp. 2005), is classified as a criminal offense for which
imprisonment is possible. See Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 3 (2006)
(defining “misdemeanor” as a crime for which a sentence of not more than 90
days or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both, may be imposed).
Therefore, because an officer in “hot pursuit” is permitted to enter a suspect’s home without a warrant to make an arrest when the suspect has committed a crime in the officer’s presence, and a suspect may not thwart an arrest in progress by retreating into her home, the district court properly applied the law in denying appellants’ motions to suppress.
Johnson argues that the evidence was not sufficient to convict her of obstructing legal process. Specifically, Johnson argues that the statute under which she was charged requires proof that she engaged in physical conduct directed at the officer. On the other hand, respondent argues that fleeing a police officer is sufficient to support a conviction of obstruction of legal process.
In considering a
challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this court’s review is limited to
determining whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to
the conviction, is sufficient to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (
It is necessary to first determine what
evidence is required for a conviction of obstruction of legal process. The statute under which Johnson was charged
provides that whoever intentionally “obstructs, resists, or interferes with a
peace officer while the officer is engaged in the performance of official
duties” commits obstruction of legal process.
But Krawsky did not directly address whether
the conduct proscribed in the statute must be directed at the officer to
support a conviction. We turn then to
the language of the statute, which proscribes intentional conduct that
“obstructs, resists, or interferes” with a police officer. Initially, we observe that there is a wide
variety of activity not directed at police, that could have the effect of “obstruct[ing],” “resist[ing],”
or “interfer[ing]” with a police officer.
For example, conduct such as hiding from, evading, or avoiding a police
officer could potentially fit within a broad reading of the phrase “obstructs,
resists, or interferes.” But the statute
cannot be read so broadly as to include any act that merely reduces the ability
of a police officer to successfully apprehend a suspect. See
State v. Tomlin, 622 N.W.2d 546, 549 (Minn. 2001) (holding that defendant’s
lies to police, although they may have interrupted or prolonged the
investigation, did not physically obstruct the officers and, therefore, did not
constitute obstruction of legal process); see
also Dunham v. Roer, 708 N.W.2d 552, 568 (
Patch, the defendant was charged
under the obstruction statute for warning a person with outstanding arrest
warrants that police were pursuing her, helping her look for an escape route,
serving as a lookout, and offering her a ride as a means of fleeing
Thus, we construe
the statute narrowly to proscribe conduct directed at the police officer that
“obstructs, resists, or interferes” with the police officer in the performance
of official duties under the statute.
Our holding is supported by the direction taken by the supreme court in Krawsky and our decision in Patch.
We observe that fleeing a police officer is not constitutionally
protected conduct and is the subject of a separate criminal offense. See
generally State v. Ingram, 570 N.W.2d 173 (
Finally, the state
argues that the 1989 amendment adding “obstructs” and “resists” to the term
“interferes” broadened the reach of the statute so as to include fleeing a
police officer. We disagree. “Obstructs” and “resists” are terms that, at
least in the context of the duties police officers perform, connote physical
activity directed at the officer even more strongly than does the term
“interferes.” See generally State v. Wick, 331 N.W.2d 769, 771 (
Here, Johnson engaged in the act of fleeing police officers. She did not direct any physical activity at the responding officers that could have obstructed their investigation and did not say anything to them. Thus, Johnson’s conduct did not violate the obstruction-of-legal-process statute.
D E C I S I O N
Because the district court properly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to suppress, we affirm the convictions of consumption of alcohol and possession of marijuana. But we conclude that the evidence is not sufficient to support a conviction that Johnson intentionally committed a physical or oral act directed at the peace officers that obstructed, resisted, or interfered with the officers’ performance of official duties, and, therefore, we reverse that conviction.
Affirmed in part and in reversed in part.
argues Johnson lacks standing to challenge the warrantless entry into the
residence of the other three appellants because she had no “reasonable expectation
of privacy” in a dwelling that was not her own home. But short-term social guests have a
reasonable expectation of privacy in their host’s home. See In
re Welfare of B.R.K., 658 N.W.2d 565, 576 (