This opinion will be unpublished and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
Waleya Lynn Matt,
Filed October 17, 2006
Polk County District Court
Docket No.: K5-04-566
Michael Hatch, State Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134; and
Gregory Alan Widseth, Polk County Attorney, Scott Allen Buhler, Assistant County Attorney, Crookston Professional Center, Suite 101, 223 East Seventh Street, Crookston, Minnesota 56716 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Michael
F. Cromett, Assistant State Public Defender, Office of the State Public
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Peterson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This is an appeal from a conviction for fifth-degree controlled substance crime, arguing that police did not have articulable suspicion to stop the car driven by the man with whom appellant and her family were living. Appellant argues that child-protection reports alleging possible mistreatment of appellant’s children did not justify the stop, and that police had only a hunch that appellant and her husband might be in the vehicle. Appellant also argues that the informant who had reported appellant was using drugs while pregnant and while breast-feeding was not shown to be reliable or to have a reliable basis of knowledge. Finally, appellant argues that this information did not provide probable cause to arrest appellant. We reverse.
On March 17 and April 14, 2004,
After determining that Zornes’s passengers were the Matts, Deputy Sondrol explained that he wanted to question the Matts regarding the child protection reports. He asked them if they would returnto Zornes’s residence to discuss the allegations. The Matts agreed. At no point did Deputy Sondrol place anyone under formal arrest, but he did not advise them that they were free to leave. Deputy Sondrol and Demarais followed Zornes and the Matts back to Zornes’s residence.
When they arrived, appellant rushed toward the house. Deputy Sondrol called to her to stop, which she did not do. She entered the house, and Deputy Sondrol followed her. The deputy stated that he took the Matts’ previous agreement to return to Zornes’s residence as permission to enter the house. Deputy Sondrol did not have a warrant to enter the house. After entering, but before questioning the Matts, Zornes gave Deputy Sondrol permission to be in the house.
Once in the house, Deputy Sondrol asked Mr. Matt for consent to search the bedroom and bathroom that he and appellant occupied. Mr. Matt consented. Sondrol’s search uncovered a small amount of Oxycodone and drug paraphernalia. Deputy Sondrol did not place appellant under arrest until other officers arrived a short time later. While being questioned, appellant made incriminating statements.
Appellant’s counsel filed a motion seeking to suppress evidence and dismiss the criminal charge pending against appellant (this motion was later amended by a filing on June 8, 2004). On June 15, 2004, the district court judge denied this motion as untimely, and the matter was set for jury trial. On September 27, 2004, appellant renewed her request for an omnibus hearing and filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained on April 20, 2004 because Deputy Sondrol did not “have reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of the vehicle defendant was riding [in].” The district court subsequently reversed the June 15 order and ordered an omnibus hearing on the matter.
After her motion to suppress was denied the second time, appellant submitted her case to the district court pursuant to the procedure authorized in State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980). The district court found appellant guilty, and sentenced her to 12 months and one day in prison. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
When reviewing a lower court’s
decision on a motion to suppress evidence, this court “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 (
passenger in a vehicle stopped by law enforcement has standing to contest the
lawfulness of the stop.
Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, § 10 of the Minnesota
Constitution prohibit “unreasonable searches and seizures” of “persons, houses,
papers, and effects. . . . ” Because a
vehicle stop constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment these provisions apply to vehicle stops by law enforcement
officers. See In re E.D.J.,
502 N.W.2d 779, 782 (
The district court provided two possible reasonable grounds
for Deputy Sondrol’s stop of the vehicle in which appellant was a
passenger. First, “the Matts lived with
Mr. Zornes’, [sic] and even though the officer may not have known for sure who
was in the vehicle at the time of the stop, the fact that the vehicle contained
four people would suggest the good possibility that the Matts were accompanying
Mr. Zornes at that time.” Second, Deputy
Sondrol had reason to believe that the Matts were using illegal drugs. With regard to the second ground, appellant
and the state argue at length in their briefs
over the reliability of the information provided to the child protection authorities regarding appellant’s drug use.
Information provided by private, identified citizens—as was
the case here—is presumed to be reliable.
See Marben v. State Dept. of Pub.
Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (
As noted above, at trial, Deputy Sondrol agreed that he had never encountered the Matts before. Prior to stopping the vehicle, he had not observed the infant in the vehicle. After stopping the vehicle, he had to ask Zornes if his passengers were the Matts. There is no evidence in the record that the deputy had any reason at all to believe that the Matts were traveling with Zornes, beyond the possibility that they “might be.”
agree that “the factual basis required to support a stop is minimal.” Knapp v.
Commissioner of Public Safety, 610 N.W.2d 625, 628 (
Although the reasonable suspicion standard is
flexible, the officer must have some objective, reasonable basis for stopping a
vehicle. See Ornelas v. U.S., 517
Here, the state stresses the reliability of the evidence provided by the hospital employee and the confidential informant to justify Deputy Sondrol’s stop of the vehicle in his attempt to locate appellant. However, the state did not provide evidence that Deputy Sondrol reasonably believed that appellant was in Zornes’s vehicle. In every case that the state cites, the police obtained a warrant to search a particular area for a person or contraband, or were given detailed information regarding the location of the person or contraband in question for immediate police investigation.
The tips Deputy
Sondrol relied upon were one and two weeks old and neither stated that appellant
traveled with Zornes in his vehicle. It
is not suggested that the informants needed to provide the exact location of
appellant for the information to be deemed credible. The information provided correctly noted that
appellant was residing with Zornes.
However, for Deputy Sondrol to have executed a valid stop of Zornes’s
vehicle on the information provided by informants, caselaw indicates that the tips must have at least given some indication that appellant was traveling with Zornes. We conclude the stop of the vehicle was arbitrary, not based on “bad faith,” but based simply on a classic hunch by the officer that stopping the Zornes vehicle might lead to some information about appellant’s whereabouts. The stop of Zornes’s vehicle fell short of articulable suspicion that criminal activity was present and, thus, the contraband found at the house is “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must be suppressed. The state presents alternate theories for the admissibility of the contraband, but their theories cannot avoid the consequence of the unconstitutional stop.