This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
State of Minnesota,
Sherburne County District Court
File No. K499180
Mike Hatch, Minnesota State Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Walter M. Kaminsky, Sherburne County Attorney, Thomas C. McNinch, Assistant Sherburne County Attorney, 13880 Highway 10, Elk River, MN 55330-4601 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Lawrence Hammerling, Deputy State Public Defender, Jodie L. Carlson, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Appellant Joseph Dellwo, convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit a first-degree controlled substance crime (methamphetamine manufacture), argues that police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by stopping his vehicle and conducting a pretextual inventory search. Appellant further asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. Because the police had a valid basis to stop appellant’s vehicle, and conducted an inventory search in accordance with police department procedures, and because the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to have found appellant guilty of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, we affirm.
At about 10:00 p.m. on February 9, 1999, an assistant manager of an Elk River home improvement store learned that two men purchased large quantities of chemicals just before the store closed. The manager recognized the chemicals -- toluol, Red Devil lye, and muriatic acid -- from a drug task force list of methamphetamine ingredients. The manager saw the men walk to a pickup truck, then called police to report the vehicle’s description and license number.
Officers Brian Boos and Mark Edlund responded to the call, stopped near the store, and observed two men loading purchases into the truck. After the officers learned from the dispatcher that the truck’s license plates were invalid, they stopped it on a frontage road adjacent to the store. The officers verified that appellant, the passenger, owned the vehicle. Officer Boos informed appellant that because of the expired plates, police were going to inventory and tow the truck. After calling for a tow truck, officers began an inventory search of the appellant’s truck. Freezing rain made walking perilous, so police had appellant and Brian Mitzel, the driver of the truck, wait in a squad car.
The officers began an inventory search, making “mental notes” of items of value. As Boos began the inventory of the truck cab, he found a baggie of methamphetamine and a small amount of marijuana in an eyeglass case. Suspecting criminal activity, the officers continued to search. When they found chemicals and equipment they knew to be used in methamphetamine manufacture, the officers arrested appellant and Mitzel.
After the truck was towed to the police department, officers conducted a supplementary inventory search to log both items of value and evidence. In the cab, officers found aluminum foil, rubber hosing, light bulbs, strainers, mixing bowls, a marijuana pipe, a scale, paper towels, coffee filters, garbage bags, and a number of personal items. A search of the truck bed revealed coolers containing twelve cans of Red Devil lye, five gallons of toluol, five one-gallon containers of muriatic acid, coffee filters, hosing, gas cans, water cans, and thirty-six boxes of over-the-counter cold medications. Police recovered receipts dated February 9, 1999, from the home improvement store, a hardware store, and a discount store listing many of the chemicals and medication. One receipt showed a purchase of five lithium batteries.
The state charged appellant with conspiracy to commit a first-degree controlled substance crime (methamphetamine manufacture) in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.096 (1998) and Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2(a) (1998). Following a contested omnibus hearing, the district court held the stop was valid on the basis of the expired license plates and that the inventory search was lawful.
At trial, appellant admitted purchasing two gallons of toluol, five cans of Red Devil lye, and 14 boxes of cold medication. One officer testified that appellant claimed to have purchased the chemicals to strip furniture but admitted using methamphetamine. An expert testified that toluol, lye, muriatic acid, cold tablets, and lithium are ingredients in methamphetamine manufacture. According to the expert, the only methamphetamine ingredients missing from the items found in the truck were anhydrous ammonia and lithium, and he testified the amount of chemicals recovered was consistent with the manufacturing of methamphetamine. The expert testified that manufacturing is accomplished with equipment such as coffee filters, tubing, and aluminum foil.
The jury convicted appellant. Appellant now challenges that conviction, alleging the stop and inventory search violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant argues that the district court erred by admitting the evidence recovered from the truck because the police conducted an unconstitutional search. Appellant contends that the inventory search was not conducted according to standardized police procedures and was merely a pretext for a criminal evidence search. Because the facts are undisputed, we independently review the circumstances surrounding the search and determine, as a matter of law, whether the officers’ actions were justified. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992); State v. Storvick, 428 N.W.2d 55, 58 n.1 (Minn. 1988).
It is unlawful to drive or park an improperly registered vehicle on a public street. Minn. Stat. § 169.79 (Minn. 1998). Police have the authority to take into custody and impound motor vehicles that are located so as to constitute a hazard. Minn. Stat. § 168B.04, subd. 2 (ii) (1998). Appellant’s improperly registered truck could not be driven and the icy weather conditions made it unsafe to leave the truck parked on the frontage road. An inventory search of an impounded vehicle is a long-recognized exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. City of St. Paul v. Myles, 298 Minn. 298, 304, 218 N.W.2d 697, 701 (1974).
“Under the inventory exception, police need neither probable cause nor a warrant to search a vehicle.” State v. Holmes, 569 N.W.2d 181, 186 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). An inventory search is a “caretaking” function that both protects the owner’s property inside the vehicle and protects police from claims that they lost or damaged property within their control. Id. These are “strong governmental interests,” and accordingly, courts “accord deference to police caretaking procedures designed to secure and protect vehicles and their contents within police custody.” Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 372, 107 S. Ct. 738, 741 (1987) (citations omitted).
A lawful inventory search requires police to follow standardprocedures. Id. at 375-76; 107 S. Ct. at 743; State v. Rodewald, 376 N.W.2d 416, 421 (Minn. 1985). But an inventory procedure is not unreasonable merely because there may be a less intrusive alternative. Bertine, 479 U.S.at 374, 107 S. Ct. at 742.
[R]easonable police regulations relating to inventory procedures administered in good faith satisfy the Fourth Amendment, even though courts might as a matter of hindsight be able to devise equally reasonable rules requiring a different procedure.
Id. A procedure that requires officers to conduct an inventory search before towing a vehicle is not, in and of itself, unconstitutional. See id. at 367, 107 S. Ct. at 742 (upholding constitutionality of inventory search conducted before towing); see also Holmes, 569 N.W.2d at 187 (recognizing that a single fact, such as inventory search conducted at scene, is not dispositive); Fair v. State, 627 N.E.2d 427, 436 (Ind. 1993) (same).
In this case, the expired license plates and icy weather conditions gave police officers a valid, independent basis to stop and tow appellant’s truck. The police department’s inventory procedures required officers to inventory vehicles prior to towing and to complete a form, listing the items of value found in the interior, glove box, or trunk of the impounded vehicle. Officer Edlund testified that an inventory form was not completed on the scene because officers found suspected controlled substances early in the inventory process, which transformed the inventory search into a probable cause search. Edlund explained that it is common for the tow truck to arrive before an inventory report is written, and thus the report is completed later. Edlund testified that, in the course of this impoundment, another officer ultimately completed an inventory report at the police station.
Appellant argues that the inventory search was a pretext for a criminal evidence search. Inventory searches may not be “a ruse for general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence.” Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4, 110 S. Ct. 1632, 1635 (1990). But an inventory search is not unlawful merely because police may also have an investigatory motive. Holmes, 569 N.W.2d at 187. A pretextual, and therefore invalid, search is one that is motivated solely by investigative purposes. Id. at 187-88.
To determine whether the sole motivation is investigative purposes, we must examine whether there was an administrative reason for the impoundment. Id. at188. Some facts that point to the absence of an administrative reason include: (1) a search conducted at the crime scene; (2) an investigating officer conducting the search, and not the officer responsible for logging inventory; (3) no inventory sheets are completed; (4) no personal effects are logged; and (5) no impoundment takes place. Id.
Reviewing the circumstances of this case in light of these facts shows an administrative reason for impounding appellant’s truck. The revoked license plates and icy weather conditions gave officers a valid reason to immediately order the truck towed. While one of the officers who investigated the dispatch call conducted the inventory search, that same officer ordered the tow truck on the basis of the revoked plates, and police department policy required him to do an inventory search before towing. The truck was, in fact, towed and impounded. The inventory report completed at the police department is a separate document from the evidence log, and lists many personal items, including a jean jacket, a cell phone, brown canvas snow pants, and several tools. Although the original dispatch made the officers aware that appellant may have purchased methamphetamine ingredients, that knowledge was not the sole basis for the inventory search.
Accordingly, we hold that the inventory searches of appellant’s truck, both at the scene and later at the police department, were constitutional.
Appellant argues that the evidence was not sufficient for a reasonable jury to find him guilty of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. This court’s review of whether the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction is generally limited to determining whether a jury could reasonably have found the defendant guilty of the offense charged. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). This court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). When a conviction rests on circumstantial evidence, reviewing courts accord the jury due deference because of their opportunity to evaluate the evidence. Id. A conviction resting on circumstantial evidence must be affirmed unless the defendant sets forth a reasonable hypothesis of innocence and points to evidence in the record consistent with his or her theory. State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995). Appellant argues he is innocent because he bought the chemicals for stripping furniture, and purchased 14 boxes of cold medication because February is “a time of year often associated with colds.”
The jury found appellant guilty of conspiracy to commit a first-degree controlled substance crime, methamphetamine manufacture. A person is guilty of a first-degree controlled substance crime if the person unlawfully sells one or more mixtures of total weight of 50 grams or more containing methamphetamine. Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(2) (1998). The definition of “sell” includes manufacturing. Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 15a(1) (1998).
The elements of the crime of conspiracy are: (1) an agreement with another to commit a crime; and (2) an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Minn. Stat. § 609.175, subd. 2 (1998); State v. Olkon, 299 N.W.2d 89, 104 (Minn. 1980). A factfinder may infer a conspiracy from the facts proved, and no formal agreement need be shown. State v. Watson, 433 N.W.2d 110, 114-15 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Feb. 10, 1989).
In this case, the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to infer an agreement between appellant and Mitzel to manufacture methamphetamine. Of the chemicals recovered, appellant admitted purchasing two of five gallons of toluol, five of 12 containers of lye, and 14 of 36 boxes of cold tablets; Mitzel purchased the other items, including muriatic acid. Receipts found on appellant’s person showed that purchases of lye, toluol, cold medicine and lithium batteries were made between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. the day of his arrest. Police found methamphetamine in appellant’s truck, and appellant admitted using the drug that week.
The jury heard expert testimony that toluol, lye, cold tablets containing pseudephedrine or ephedrine, and lithium extracted from batteries are all ingredients used to make methamphetamine, and that the amounts police recovered in this case are consistent with manufacture. The only methamphetamine ingredients not recovered were the lithium batteries and anhydrous ammonia. The jury was also able to consider the other items found in the truck, including coffee filters, aluminum foil, strainers, mixing bowls, paper towels, a scale, and garbage bags. The expert testified that some of these items are commonly used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine.
The state argued that appellant and Mitzel each made purchases and met to combine them in the course of a plan to manufacture methamphetamine. The evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that appellant and Mitzel agreed to manufacture methamphetamine, as evidenced by their separate yet similar overt acts of purchasing methamphetamine ingredients in amounts consistent with manufacture, together with the equipment and controlled substances found in the truck.
Appellant claims that he is innocent because the products he bought have legitimate household uses, and that he purchased the toluol to strip furniture. Toluol is a solvent used as paint thinner, lye is used for cleaning drains, and muriatic acid is used to clean brick and concrete. A consideration of all the evidence in this case, however, makes appellant’s theory of innocence unreasonable.
It is undisputed that the chemicals and equipment found have legitimate uses and were legally purchased. But appellant’s hypothesis that he purchased 14 boxes of cold medications to treat common February illnesses, and that Mitzel did the same, is implausible to say the least. Nor is it reasonable to believe that appellant intended to strip furniture when one considers his association with Mitzel, the timing and quantity of their purchases, the expert testimony that each chemical is a methamphetamine ingredient and the equipment in the truck is used to manufacture methamphetamine, the methamphetamine recovered, and appellant’s admission that he used the drug.
A reasonable jury could have rejected appellant’s theory of innocence and instead found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy to commit a first-degree controlled substance crime. We hold the evidence is sufficient to support appellant’s conviction.
 The automobile exception to the search-warrant requirement allows an officer to search a vehicle if the officer has probable cause to believe the search will produce evidence of a crime. United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 823, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 2172 (1982); State v. Search, 472 N.W.2d 850, 852 (Minn. 1991).