This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Linda Marie Frey,
Stearns County District Court
File No. T8004810
Michael L. Samuelson, 915 South First Street, P.O. Box 1735, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1735 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Appellant Linda Marie Frey was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol, in violation of Minn. Stat. §169.121 subd. 1(a) (2000). Frey subsequently moved to suppress evidence discovered in the warrantless entry of her residence. The district court denied Frey’s motion, reasoning that the emergency exception to the warrant requirement applied. Frey submitted the case for trial on stipulated facts and was found guilty as charged. On appeal from her conviction, Frey challenges the district court’s denial of her motion to suppress. Because the police officers’ post-entry conduct exceeded the scope of the emergency exception to the warrant requirement, we reverse.
On March 26, 2000, at approximately 1:53 a.m. Cold Spring police Officer Chad Nigg was dispatched to a vehicle rollover on County Road 158. Officer Nigg observed that the vehicle was upside down in the ditch, the airbags had deployed, there was damage to the front of the vehicle, and the engine was warm but no one was inside the vehicle. Officer Nigg found no skid marks on the road but he found pieces of the vehicle approximately 20-25 feet from where the vehicle was resting. Because the accident looked serious, Officer Nigg believed it was highly probable that the occupant(s) of the vehicle could be injured or otherwise in need of emergency assistance. Accordingly, he ran a check of the vehicle license plate number to determine the identity of the owner.
Upon finding that the vehicle was registered to Frey, Officer Nigg directed the dispatcher to call Frey’s home. The dispatcher got a busy signal first, and the answering machine next. Officer Nigg then directed Officer Heinen to go to Frey’s home, where Officer Ackerman met him.
Frey’s neighbors let the officers into the building and reported that someone had entered Frey’s apartment within 5-15 minutes before the officers arrived. The officers went to Frey’s apartment. They knocked on the door several times and rang the doorbell, but no one answered. Because the officers believed Frey could be seriously injured, they asked the landlord to open Frey’s apartment door. The officers found Frey sleeping. When they called out to her and asked her if she had been involved in a car accident, Frey answered “yes.” Officer Ackerman then asked her if she was injured and Frey answered “no.”
Officers Heinen and Ackerman observed no injuries, but they detected the smell of alcohol and noticed that Frey was unbalanced and confused. Officer Nigg then entered Frey’s residence and spoke with Frey, who told him she was fine. When questioned about the accident, Frey stated that she had consumed a few beers in Richmond. Officer Nigg attempted to administer a preliminary breath test. But Frey had difficulty with the test. As a result, Nigg arrested her on suspicion of driving while under the influence. The district court denied Frey’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the warrantless entry of her home, reasoning that emergency circumstances justified the entry because of possible danger to human life. This appeal followed.
Warrantless entries into a private home are presumptively unreasonable. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586, 100 S. Ct. 1371, 1380 (1980); see U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10 (proscribing unreasonable searches and seizures by the government of “persons, houses, papers, and effects”). To overcome the presumption of unreasonableness, the state must demonstrate that the “police conduct was justified under an established exception to the warrant requirement.” State v. Halla-Poe, 468 N.W.2d 570, 572 (Minn. App. 1991) (quotation omitted).
Under the emergency exception to the warrant requirement police officers may enter a home without a warrant “if they reasonably believe that a person is in need of immediate aid.” Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d at 223 (citing Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392-293, 98 S. Ct. 2408, 2413-14 (1978)). In determining whether the officer’s belief that a person is in need of immediate aid is reasonable, the courts must apply an objective standard and determine whether given the facts available to the officer at the moment of seizure, search and entry, a person of reasonable caution would have believed that the action taken was appropriate.” Id.
However, an officer’s post-entry conduct must be consistent with the objective that justified the warrantless entry in the first place. See Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure, a Treatise of the Fourth Amendment § 6.6(a) (3rd Ed. 1996). Accordingly, an officer who enters a home without a warrant pursuant to an emergency may do no more than is reasonably necessary to ascertain whether someone is in immediate need of assistance and to provide that assistance. See Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d at 223 (holding that officer whom passenger told she was not injured and who she could see was being attended to by ambulance personnel did not have reason to enter house). A warrantless entry of a dwelling will not be justified under the emergency exception when a law-enforcement officer has been specifically told that help was not needed. See id.
Frey argues that the district court erred in admitting the evidence the officers obtained after their warrantless entry into Frey’s apartment. We agree because once inside Frey’s apartment, Frey told officers that she did not need medical attention, but the officers continued their investigation, thus exceeding the scope of the emergency exception.
Police officers reasonably believed that Frey might be in need of immediate medical attention because of the extensive damage to her car. Their warrantless entry into Frey’s home was justified under the emergency exception to the warrant requirement. But the officers’ post-entry conduct exceeded what was necessary to achieve the objective that justified the warrantless entry in the first place, because it was not “reasonably connected to ascertaining whether someone was in need of assistance.” Cf. State v. Anderson 388 N.W.2d 784, 787 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding that a walk-through search justified by report of possible domestic violence), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1986). Upon entering Frey’s apartment, the officers asked Frey if she was injured, and she responded that she was not. At that point, the emergency exception no longer applied. See id. The questions the officer asked after Frey responded that she was not injured and after the officers confirmed that she was not in need of assistance, exceeded the scope of the emergency exception. See State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d at 223. Evidence obtained as a result of those questions is therefore inadmissible.
Because the police officers’ post-entry conduct exceeded the scope of the emergency exception, the district court erred in denying Frey’s motion to suppress the evidence on which her conviction of driving while under the influence of alcohol was based.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.