This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota
Michael James Davis,
Filed June 13, 2006
File No. K8-05-1211
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445
Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Thomas N. Kelly, Wright County Attorney, Brian A. Lutes,
Assistant Wright County Attorney, 10 Second Street Northwest, Buffalo, MN
55313-1189 (for appellant)
Phillip S. Resnick, 1925 Rand Tower,
527 Marquette Avenue South,
and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Collins, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I
N I O N
In this appeal by
the state from a pretrial order suppressing evidence of drugs found in
respondent Michael James Davis’s car, the state argues that police did not
seize Davis or
search his car and that respondent voluntarily revealed the contents of his
glove box. Because we conclude that Davis did not voluntarily
open his glove box, we affirm.
April 7, 2005, Minnesota State Patrol Lieutenant Sean Meagher responded to a
rear-end automobile collision on an I-94 exit ramp in Wright County. Lieutenant Meagher approached the rear car to
speak with its driver, Michael James Davis.
Meagher asked Davis
about licensure and car ownership. Davis presented Lieutenant
Meagher with a valid driver’s license and told him that the car belonged to his
mother. Lieutenant Meagher asked Davis for proof of insurance, and Davis began to search the center console and
passenger seat. Then Davis checked his pants pockets. Lieutenant Meagher suggested, “Glove box,
maybe?” Davis responded, “No.” Davis
left the car, opened a rear door, and looked for the insurance information in various
articles of clothing and other objects on the back seat. Davis
returned to sit in the driver’s seat, and Lieutenant Meagher again inquired, “Nothing
in the glove box?” Davis told him that the glove box was locked,
which Lieutenant Meagher found suspicious because the car keys were in the
Meagher then walked around the car to the passenger-side front door. He opened the door and leaned into the
car. Lieutenant Meagher asked, “Why
don’t you try the key?” He suggested,
“It’s probably in there,” referring again to the glove box. Davis
finally reached over, opened the glove box, and placed on the passenger seat
what appeared to Lieutenant Meagher to be a glass jar containing marijuana and colorful
glass pipes used to smoke marijuana. Lieutenant
Meagher commented, “Oh, it’s not locked.”
on the marijuana and drug paraphernalia, Lieutenant Meagher searched the rest
car. The search revealed a security box containing
two pipes, a spoon coated with white residue, a digital scale with calibration
weights, a baggie of white crystals, and a baggie of white powder. The state charged Davis with two counts of first-degree
controlled-substance crime, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd.
Davis moved the district
court to suppress the evidence on the ground that the search was
unconstitutional. After a contested
omnibus hearing at which Lieutenant Meagher testified and the district court
viewed a video of the investigation and search, the court concluded that Lieutenant
Meagher’s “suggestion to open the glove box was repeated, prolonged, and became
coercive” and, therefore, that “the evidence must be suppressed as fruit of an
unlawful search.” The state’s appeal challenges
D E C I S I O N
state asks us to reverse the district court’s suppression decision. When the state appeals from the district
court’s pretrial order, it must clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that the
district court “has erred in its judgment and that, unless reversed, the error
will have a critical impact on the outcome of the trial.” State
v. Webber, 262 N.W.2d 157, 159 (Minn.
1977). Critical impact exists “not only
in those cases where the lack of the suppressed evidence completely destroys
the state’s case, but also in those cases where the lack of the suppressed
evidence significantly reduces the likelihood of a successful prosecution.” State
v. Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 551 (Minn.
1987). We first consider whether the
suppression will have a critical impact on the state’s case. State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998).
district court suppressed all of the evidence seized from Davis’s car, and the record reveals no other
evidence to establish a controlled-substance crime. If the state cannot admit into evidence the
contraband found in Davis’s car, it cannot
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The
district court’s order will, therefore, render a successful prosecution
impossible. We conclude that the state
has met the critical-impact element.
state argues that the district court erred by suppressing the evidence seized
car. When the underlying facts are
undisputed, this court independently reviews the record and determines, as a
matter of law, whether the district court erred by suppressing the
evidence. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999).
Both the federal and state constitutions protect individuals from
unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S.
Const. amend. IV; Minn.
Const. art. I, § 10. We must
balance the reasonableness of government intrusion against a citizen’s right to
be free from the arbitrary interference of law officials. State
v. Ferrise, 269 N.W.2d 888, 890 n.1 (Minn.
state maintains that Davis
voluntarily opened the glove box. We
understand that if Davis indeed voluntarily
presented Lieutenant Meagher with drugs and drug paraphernalia, the question is
resolved in the state’s favor because uncoerced cooperation with police does
not offend the Fourth Amendment or its Minnesota
counterpart. See Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S.
218, 228, 93 S. Ct. 2041, 2048 (1973);State v. Dezso, 512 N.W.2d 877, 880 (Minn. 1994). But when an officer’s search rests on
coerced, so-called “consent,” the search is constitutionally infirm. See Dezso,
512 N.W.2d at 881. The question here is
not whether Davis consented to an officer’s
search, but whether the officer so pressured Davis
to expose the contents of the glove box that Davis’s decision to open it should not be
treated as a voluntary act. The state concedes
that this situation, therefore, does not fit squarely within the typical line
of Fourth Amendment cases. But an
individual’s consent to the opening of a private enclosure raises the same
constitutional concerns regardless of whether it is the individual or the
officer who physically opens the enclosure; either way, the officer’s conduct
might coerce the consent that prompts the opening, rendering the opening
unconstitutional. Whether Davis voluntarily opened
the glove box is a question of fact that depends on the totality of the
circumstances. See Dezso, 512 N.W.2d at
880. If “a
reasonable person would have felt free to decline the officer[’s] requests or
otherwise terminate the encounter,” compliance with the officer’s request is
voluntary. Id. (alteration in
original) (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S.
429, 436, 111 S. Ct. 2382, 2387 (1991)).
Meagher lawfully approached Davis’s
car to investigate the accident. See State v. Vohnoutka, 292 N.W.2d 756,
1980) (noting that police may approach and talk to a driver sitting in an
already stopped car). Lieutenant Meagher
had a duty to question Davis
and seek information pertinent to the investigation. See Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 8 (2004) (requiring police to
make a report of traffic accidents); cf.
Kozak v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 359 N.W.2d 625, 628 (Minn. App. 1984)
(noting that an officer has a duty to make reasonable investigation of vehicles
parked along roadways to offer assistance).
Lieutenant Meagher’s initial inquiries into Davis’s identity, his licensure, the
ownership of the car, and proof of insurance are related to the accident investigation
and were conducted so as to present no constitutional concerns.
Lieutenant Meagher continued to express interest in the glove box after Davis told him that proof
of insurance was not inside and that the glove box was locked. Lieutenant Meagher testified that he knew Davis did not want to open the glove box and that he
reluctance was suspicious. He also
testified that he wanted Davis
to open the glove box. The record shows
that Lieutenant Meagher left the driver’s side of the car, abandoning his
immediate access to Davis,
and walked around to the passenger side to position himself in immediate reach
of the glove box. Without any apparent invitation
or constitutional authority, Lieutenant Meagher then opened Davis’s
car door, entered the car by leaning inside, and, despite Davis’s
reluctance, suggested for a third time that Davis open the glove box. Under the circumstances, the district court
could find that based on Lieutenant Meagher’s physical conduct and repeated
verbal requests, Lieutenant Meagher’s question, “Why don’t you try the key?” is
an implied directive that Davis
open the glove box.
therefore find adequate support in the record for the district court’s factual conclusion
that Lieutenant Meagher’s “suggestion to open the glove box was repeated,
prolonged, and became coercive.” We do
not suggest that an officer merely asking for insurance information or
suggesting that requested papers might be in the glove box would support a
finding of coercion. But Lieutenant Meagher’s
continued, express interest in the glove box, his physical intrusion into the
car, and his final implied directive that Davis
open the glove box, together establish coercion. A reasonable person would feel compelled to obey
Lieutenant Meagher’s specific instruction to open the glove box. We are careful to note that the district
court did not find, nor do we suggest, that Lieutenant Meagher intentionally violated Davis’s right to privacy. Our analysis focuses instead on whether a
reasonable person in Davis’s
circumstance could have considered himself free to decline Lieutenant Meagher’s
requests to open the glove box or to end the encounter. The district court did not err in determining
involuntarily opened the glove box to reveal its contents.
state argues that Lieutenant Meagher’s requests that Davis open the glove box did not constitute a
search because his sole purpose was to retrieve proof of insurance. Lieutenant Meagher’s interest in the contents
of the glove box might be relevant to our analysis if we were concerned with
the scope of the encounter. See State
v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 364 (Minn.
2004) (holding that an intrusion during a traffic stop must be closely related
to the justification for the stop unless it is supported by independent
probable cause). The question here is
not whether Lieutenant Meagher had a valid interest in viewing the insurance
information, but whether he was authorized to direct Davis
to open an enclosure in which Davis
enjoyed an expectation of privacy. Under
these circumstances, we agree with the district court’s determination that he was
state urges us to apply the plain-view doctrine. Had the marijuana been present on the
passenger seat in plain view when Lieutenant Meagher approached Davis’s car, Lieutenant Meagher’s
observation of the marijuana would have provided probable cause and the
subsequent search of the car would have been lawful under the automobile
exception to the warrant requirement. See United
States v. Ross, 456 U.S.
798, 823, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 2172 (1982) (holding that an officer may search a
vehicle if the officer has probable cause to believe the search will produce
evidence of a crime); State v. Search,
472 N.W.2d 850, 852 (Minn.
1991) (same). But the marijuana was not
in plain view when Lieutenant Meagher approached the car. The marijuana came into plain view because Davis opened the glove
box, and he opened the glove box because Lieutenant Meagher essentially
directed him to do so. Because Davis did not open the
glove box voluntarily, discovery of the marijuana and the subsequent search are