This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
State of Minnesota,
Jon Alan Wren,
Carver County District Court
File No. K5000008
Mike Hatch, Minnesota Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Michael A. Fahey, Carver County Attorney, Peter A.C. Ivy, Assistant Carver County Attorney, Courthouse, 600 East Fourth Street, Chaska, MN 55318 (for appellant)
Mark D. Nyvold, Attorney at Law, 1030 Minnesota Building, 46 East Fourth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.
The state challenges the district court order suppressing evidence gathered in a search of respondent’s trailer. The district court suppressed the evidence after determining there were no exigent circumstances that justified a warrantless search of respondent’s property. We affirm.
On December 30, 1999, the Watertown Fire Department and Carver County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about a possible illegal fire on property occupied by respondent John Wren. On the way to the fire, dispatch alerted Fire Chief Hubie Widmer that there was an active felony warrant out for respondent’s arrest. Widmer had also received information from a confidential informant that respondent was possibly operating a methamphetamine lab on the premises.
When Widmer arrived at the scene he could not see the fire, but he could smell smoke. Widmer found a fire, approximately four feet square, burning behind a mobile home. The fire was approximately 15 feet from the nearest building. Widmer saw a man near the fire, Paul Olk, who stated that he was burning shingles. Widmer noticed punctured aerosol cans in the fire and knew that these materials could be used to manufacture methamphetamine. A deputy at the scene then did a pat-down search of Olk and found two containers containing a white powdery substance. Olk admitted that the substance was “crank” (methamphetamine) and was placed under arrest.
Firemen removed the cans from the fire and extinguished the flames. After the fire was extinguished, Widmer and two deputies walked around the property looking for respondent. Widmer was looking into a trailer that appeared to be locked when respondent walked up to him. The deputies arrested respondent on the outstanding felony warrant. Widmer testified that he continued to look around the property for safety reasons; he stated that he was looking for a possible methamphetamine lab and dangerous chemicals that might injure the firefighters. Widmer and a police officer attempted to go into a trailer, but it appeared to be locked. Widmer noticed that a rod was holding the trailer door shut; he pulled out the pin and went inside. Inside the trailer, Widmer found coffee filters that contained a white powdery substance. Widmer believed this trailer to be the methamphetamine lab.
Widmer contacted Agent Dobratz of the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force. Dobratz obtained a search warrant. While executing the warrant, Dobratz seized methamphetamine and equipment used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The state charged respondent with controlled substance crime in the first degree and conspiracy to sell methamphetamines under Minn. Stats. §§ 152.021, subd. 1(1); 2(a); 3(a) (1998); and 152.096, subds. 1, 2 (1998).
Respondent moved to suppress all evidence seized during the execution of the search warrant. The district court found that no exigent circumstances were present to justify Widmer’s initial entry into the trailer and therefore, the later search pursuant to the search warrant was in violation of Article I, section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution. The court granted respondent’s motion to suppress and dismissed the charges. The state now appeals.
The state challenges the district court’s suppression of evidence and dismissal of the charges against respondent. In a pretrial appeal, this court will only reverse the determination of the district court if the state demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that the district court erred in its judgment, and that, unless reversed, the error will have a critical impact on the trial. State v. Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 547 (Minn. 1987). The district court suppressed all evidence seized as a result of an illegal search and, because the state has no other evidence with which to proceed to trial, the critical impact test is met. See id. at 551. (Noting that in order to establish critical impact the state must show that “the lack of suppressed evidence significantly reduces the likelihood of a successful prosecution.”) When reviewing pre-trial orders suppressing evidence, where the facts are not in dispute, this court may independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the evidence should have been suppressed. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992).
The Fourth Amendment protects persons against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. Amend. IV; see also Minn. Const. art. I, § 10 (prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures). But for a few well-delineated exceptions, warrantless searches are pre se unreasonable. State v. Dickerson, 481 N.W.2d 840, 843 (Minn. 1992). An individual must have a legitimate expectation of privacy in order to assert a Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S. Ct. 421, 430. Respondent had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the trailer because it was located close to respondent’s residential trailer, appeared to be used for storage, and was secured with a pin lock; therefore a warrant was required for the search. See State v. Krech, 403 N.W.2d 634, 636-37 (Minn. 1987) (discussing relevant factors for determining if one has an expectation of privacy in one’s property, e.g., proximity to home, enclosed space, nature of use, and steps taken to protect area from view).
Although a search warrant was needed, but not obtained, before Widmer entered the trailer for the first time, such a search may still be reasonable if it falls within one of the warrant exceptions. See State v. Search, 472 N.W.2d 850, 852 (Minn. 1991). In its brief, the state argued that Widmer’s search of the trailer fell within the exigent circumstance exception. See State v. Lohnes, 344 N.W.2d 605, 610 (Minn. 1984) (noting that when exigent circumstances exist a warrant is not required for search and seizure of a suspect in his residence). Oral argument, however, counsel for the state said, “I am, upon further reflection, willing to concede a couple of points at this time * * * this wasn’t an exigent circumstance.” The state, having stated that no exigent circumstances existed, when no other warrant exceptions apply, in effect concedes that the search of respondent’s trailer was unreasonable. If a search and seizure is conducted without a warrant and no warrant exceptions apply, the evidence obtained during the seizure may not be used against the defendant. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655, 81 S. Ct. 1684, 1691 (1961).
But the evidence seized in a warrantless search need not be suppressed if it was also lawfully obtained through an independent source. Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533, 537, 108 S. Ct. 2529, 2533 (1988). Evidence obtained pursuant to an illegal search need not be suppressed if the warrant affidavit provides sufficient independent information to support probable cause after the illegally obtained information is redacted. State v. Lozar, 458 N.W.2d 434, 440 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Sept. 28, 1990). In determining whether the independent-source exception applies, we must consider whether (1) the illegal information affected the judge’s decision to issue the warrant, and (2) the decision to seek the warrant was prompted by the illegal observation. Murray, 487 U.S. at 542, 108 S. Ct. at 2536. Counsel for the state, again at oral argument, stated that “Detective Widmer’s entry and subsequent inclusion in the search warrant had some impact on Judge Davies’ decision to sign the warrant.” The record suggests a conclusion that the illegally obtained information affected the court’s initial decision to issue the warrant. Unless both prongs of the Murray test are fulfilled, the independent-source doctrine cannot apply. See State v. Lieberg, 553 N.W.2d 51, 55 (Minn. App. 1996) (remanding for further proceeding because the absence of findings on the second step in Murray left the court without
adequate support for applying the independent-source doctrine). The independent-source doctrine does not apply in this case, and the district court did not err in suppressing the evidence.