This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 03050438
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 1800, NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Donna J. Wolfson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota Public Defender, Lydia Villalva Lijó, Assistant Public Defender, Suite 425, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant Juan Reynoso challenges his conviction of first-degree assault arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress (1) fruits of a warrantless police entry into a motel room in which appellant was a guest; (2) photographic lineups; and (3) witness identification evidence from the lineups. Because exigent circumstances justified police entry into the motel room, the photographic lineup was not overly suggestive, and the identification evidence was reliable, we affirm.
Richfield police spotted a white Cadillac in a motel parking lot. The Cadillac matched the description and license-plate number of a getaway car used in a shooting that occurred four days earlier in Minneapolis. The car was registered to Miguel Angel Grijalva-Gomez, who was registered at the motel in room 314. Richfield police knew that a group of Hispanic men had been involved in the incident that led to the shooting. They also knew that a semi-automatic, .45 caliber pistol had been used in the shooting and had not been recovered, and the suspected shooter who got into the getaway car was holding his waistband.
Officer Gregory Peterson of the Richfield Police Department located the motel room and concluded that the room’s occupants probably did not know they were under surveillance. He checked with Sgt. Erika Christensen of the Minneapolis Police Department, but the evidence is conflicting whether Christensen told Peterson that there was a “probable-cause pickup” on Gomez. Christensen testified that no probable-cause pickup had been issued but that she asked Peterson to detain Gomez if he made contact with him.
Peterson decided to make contact with Gomez by knocking on the door of the motel room. Peterson was in street clothes but positioned several uniformed Richfield officers near the door. One of the officers carried a bulletproof shield used for high-risk entries. Two additional officers were positioned outside the room’s window. Peterson knocked and identified himself as hotel maintenance. Gomez opened the door slightly, then, seeing the officers, attempted to close the door. Peterson put his foot in the door, and the officers entered the room. Three men and two women were in the room. The officers identified the occupants, allowed the women to leave, and remained in the room while Minneapolis police secured a search warrant based, in part, on the observation by Richfield police officers of counterfeiting materials in the room. During the warranted search of the room, officers found a .45 caliber handgun and clothing that matched the description of what the shooter was wearing.
Christensen put together black-and-white and color photographic lineups that included appellant’s photograph. She based her construction of the lineups on witnesses’ descriptions of the shooter as a Hispanic male with a shaved head and medium build. The victim was shown the black-and-white lineup while he was still in the hospital and semi-sedated. He identified appellant as the person who shot him and, from a separate photographic lineup, identified another person from the motel room as having been present at the scene of the shooting. The victim was shown color versions of the lineups after his release from the hospital and made the same identifications. A witness positively identified appellant as the shooter from the photo lineups. Another witness who looked at the photo lineups said appellant looked like someone who had been involved in the confrontation with him that preceded the shooting and looked like the person who shot the victim.
Appellant moved to suppress all evidence seized from the room, the lineups, and the identification evidence, arguing that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights by entering the motel room without a warrant, the subsequently issued warrant was a fruit of the warrantless entry, the lineups were impermissibly suggestive, and the identification evidence was unreliable. The district court denied the motion. The case was submitted for trial on stipulated facts. Appellant was convicted and sentenced. This appeal followed.
I. Motion to suppress
“When reviewing pretrial orders on motions to suppress evidence, we may independently review the facts and determine, 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 (Minn. 1999). “The correct approach in a case where the facts are not significantly in dispute is to simply analyze the testimony of the officers and determine if, as a matter of law, the officers were justified under the cases in doing what they did.” State v. Campbell, 581 N.W.2d 870, 871 (Minn. App. 1998).
A guest in a hotel room is entitled to the constitutional protection provided by the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures. State v. Hatton, 389 N.W.2d 229, 232 (Minn. App. 1986) (citing Stoner v. State of California, 376 U.S. 483, 490, 84 S. Ct. 889, 893 (1964), review denied (Minn. Aug. 13, 1986)). To justify a warrantless entry and search of a person’s home or similar area in which a suspect has a privacy interest in order to make a felony arrest, the state must show either consent or probable cause and exigent circumstances. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 222 (Minn. 1992). In this case, police entered the motel room to identify the occupants, secure the premises, and prevent the destruction of evidence by those in the room while an application for and issuance of a search warrant was pending. In a case involving a similarly motivated entry into a home, the supreme court concluded that entry of the premises to facilitate such an impoundment requires both probable cause and exigent circumstances. State v. Alayon, 459 N.W.2d 325, 330 (Minn. 1990).
Appellant argues that police did not have probable cause to believe that Gomez, the registered owner of the Cadillac, was the person who drove the Cadillac away from the crime scene. In order to establish probable cause, the police must show that under the totality of the circumstances, it was reasonable for them to believe that the person they intended to arrest had committed a crime. State v. Johnson, 689 N.W.2d 247, 251 (Minn. App. 2004), review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 2005). Driving a getaway car constitutes aiding and abetting a crime under Minn. Stat. § 609.05 (2002). See State v. Smeriglio, 409 N.W.2d 567, 569 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding that defendant aided robbery by driving the getaway vehicle). And “[w]hen an officer observes a vehicle being driven, it is rational for him or her to infer that the owner of the vehicle is the current operator.” See State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 922 (Minn. 1996) (holding that “knowledge that the owner of a vehicle has a revoked license is enough to form the basis of a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when an officer observes the vehicle being driven”). The district court did not err by concluding that it was reasonable for the police to believe that Gomez was the driver of the getaway car, constituting probable cause for his arrest.
A single factor can give rise to exigent circumstances, or in the absence of any factors, exigent circumstances can be determined from a totality of the circumstances. State v. Gray, 456 N.W.2d 251, 256 (Minn. 1990). We conclude that the present case is best analyzed under the totality of the circumstances test, which involves examining
(a) whether a grave or violent offense is involved;
(b) whether the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed;
(c) whether there is strong probable cause connecting the suspect to the offense;
(d) whether police have strong reason to believe the suspect is on the premises;
(e) whether it is likely the suspect will escape if not swiftly apprehended; and
(f) whether peaceable entry was made.
Id. (citations omitted). The factors are part of a flexible approach that encompasses all relevant circumstances. State v. Olson, 436 N.W.2d 92, 97 (Minn. 1989).
The purpose of the exigent circumstances exception is to allow police officers to search when there is an urgent need and the delay of obtaining a warrant will prevent the discovery of evidence. . . . Exigent circumstances may exist where there is a risk of removal or destruction of evidence, . . . and where the public or the arresting officers are in danger.
Hatton, 389 N.W.2d at 233 (citations omitted).
In the case before us, a violent crime was involved, and there was a possibility that the unrecovered weapon involved in the crime was in the motel room. Gomez, as the presumptive driver of the getaway car, was connected to the crime and, as the person on the motel registration whose car was in the motel parking lot, he could reasonably be suspected to be on the premises. Escape does not appear to have been possible given the posting of police outside the door and window, and entry was not peaceful. But Peterson did not need a warrant to knock on the motel door pretending to be a maintenance person in an attempt to get the occupant, suspected to be Gomez, to voluntarily talk with him. Alayon, 459 N.W.2d at 328 (noting that officer did not need warrant to knock on suspects door and use a ruse in attempt to get suspect to voluntarily talk). The district court concluded that, given the officers’ knowledge prior to the entry, exigent circumstances arose at the point that Gomez attempted to close the door. We agree.
The district court correctly noted that, in Minnesota, exigent circumstances created by police use of a logical investigative technique under the circumstances will justify warrantless entry. Id. at 330. Once Gomez knew that the police had the motel room surrounded, there was a very real risk of destruction of evidence and a risk of danger to the officers or the other motel guests. Given the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that exigent circumstances existed to justify police entry into the hotel room. Because entry was justified, the warrant was properly issued based on observations made inside the room, and the district court did not err in denying appellant’s motion to suppress.
Appellant argues that the district court did not properly consider that the police had planned to enter the motel room, citing Olson for the proposition that “it is less likely the police can claim exigent circumstances” where the entry is planned in advance. 436 N.W.2d at 97-98. But the district court credited police testimony and found that they would not have entered the room had Gomez not answered the door, and that the shield was used for officer safety because they knew a handgun capable of shooting through the door was involved in the shooting. We review the district court’s factual findings under the clearly erroneous standard. State v. Wiernasz, 584 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. 1998). Because the evidence supports the district court’s finding, it is not clearly erroneous.
II. Photo lineups
A district court’s findings regarding the suggestiveness of a photographic lineup “are based on the totality of circumstances and will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.” State v. Kowski, 423 N.W.2d 706, 708 (Minn. App. 1988). A determination regarding the propriety of lineup procedure requires courts to consider (1) whether the procedure was unnecessarily suggestive and (2) if so, whether the totality of the circumstances nevertheless establishes the reliability of the identification evidence. State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 921 (Minn. 1995). The first inquiry turns on whether the defendant was unfairly singled out for identification. Id.
In this case, the district court looked at the photo lineups and found that although there were some differences in the photographs “the persons used in the lineups shown to the victim and potential witnesses bear a reasonable physical similarity to [appellant].” We conclude that this finding is not clearly erroneous, and that therefore the district court did not err in concluding that the lineups were not impermissibly suggestive despite some differences in the backgrounds of the photographs as well as the build and hair styles of the subjects.
The district court concluded in the alternative that the testimony of two witnesses “firmly established that both had ample time and opportunity to view their assailants and that there is therefore little chance of irreparable misidentification,” even if the lineups were impermissibly suggestive. The relevant circumstances in this context are:
1. The opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime;
2. The witness’ degree of attention;
3. The accuracy of the witness’ prior description of the criminal;
4. The level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the photo display;
5. The time between the crime and the confrontation.
The victim in this case had a face-to-face conversation with his assailant prior to the shooting and immediately identified appellant as his assailant when viewing each lineup. Another witness, who was not involved in any part of the confrontation that led up to the shooting, saw the “animated conversation” between the victim and a group of Hispanic men and the shooting. He confidently identified appellant as the shooter. Though minimal, the descriptions by the victim and witness after the crime were accurate and each was able to describe and later identify the clothing worn by appellant at the time of the crime. The identifications were made within twelve days of the crime. Because the record supports the district court’s finding that under the totality of the circumstances the identifications were reliable, the district court did not err in denying appellant’s motion to suppress the identifications.
 Although neither party here raises the issue, we note that a guest of a registered guest in a hotel or motel room also has a legitimate expectation of privacy for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. See State v. Sletten, 664 N.W.2d 870, 877 (Minn. App. 2003) (defining the term “hotel guest” to include someone who, even “if not registered in their own name, . . . generally can identify by name the persons with whom they are staying, or can demonstrate that they were invited to the room and have some cognizable relationship to the person who invited them”), review denied (Minn. Sept. 24, 2003).