opinion will be unpublished and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
State of Minnesota,
County District Court
File No. K5-05-3251
Lori R. Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota
Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Vance B. Grannis, III,
Assistant County Attorney, Dakota County Judicial Center, 1560 Highway 55,
Hastings, MN 55033 (for appellant)
Mark D. Nyvold, 332
Minnesota Street, Suite W-1610, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Anthony E. Ho, McDonough, Wagner & Ho, 14501 Granada Drive, Suite
200, Apple Valley, MN 55124 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Wright,
Judge; and Worke, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D
O P I N I O N
appeal from a pretrial order suppressing methamphetamine
found during a search of respondent’s vehicle, the state argues that the
district court clearly erred in ruling that an officer could not search behind
a speaker in the vehicle. The state
contends that the search was (1) permissible under the automobile exception, (2)
a valid search incident to arrest, and (3) a valid inventory search. We affirm.
E C I S I O N
the state appeals pretrial suppression orders, it “must ‘clearly and
unequivocally’ show both that the [district] court’s order will have a
‘critical impact’ on the state’s ability to prosecute the defendant
successfully and that the order constituted error.” State
v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998)
(citing State v. Zanter, 535 N.W.2d
624, 630 (Minn.
1995)). “[T]he critical impact of the
suppression must be first determined before deciding whether the suppression
order was made in error.” Id. 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. Joon Kyu Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 551 (Minn. 1987).
Here, an officer stopped respondent Robert Stephen Huber for failing to
signal a turn, because a taillight on his vehicle was emitting a white light,
and because a records check indicated that the vehicle’s registered owner had
an outstanding warrant for his arrest. The
officer lawfully arrested respondent and placed him in the back of his squad
car. While searching respondent’s
vehicle, the officer noticed that the speaker on the driver-side door was “ajar.” Based on the officer’s training and
experience he believed that contraband was hidden behind the speaker. The officer pulled the speaker back about two
inches and saw a case with a glass pipe sticking out of it. The officer opened the case and found baggies
containing methamphetamine and cocaine.
Respondent challenged the scope of the search, and the district
court suppressed all of the evidence found in respondent’s car. There is no other evidence of a controlled
substance crime; without the suppressed evidence the state cannot establish
guilt of a controlled substance crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the district court’s order will
significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful prosecution, the state has
met its critical-impact burden.
This court must now determine whether the
district court’s suppression order constituted
error. See Scott, 584 N.W.2d at
416. “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] the evidence.” State v. Harris,590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999). A
determination of probable cause as it relates to warrantless searches is
similarly subject to de novo review. In re Welfare of G.M., 560 N.W.2d 687,
1997). This court applies an “objective
standard” in determining the lawfulness of a search by considering the totality
of the circumstances, “and if the objective standard is met, [this court] will
not suppress evidence . . . ‘even if the officer . . . conducting the search
based his or her action on the wrong ground or had an improper motive.’” State
v. Perkins, 582 N.W.2d 876, 878 (Minn.
1998) (quoting State v. Olson, 482
N.W.2d 212, 214 (Minn.
The district court ruled that the warrantless
search behind the speaker was impermissible.
The state argues that the search was permissible under the automobile
exception, was a valid search incident to arrest, and was a valid inventory
search. The United States and Minnesota
Constitutions protect people from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. A warrantless search is presumptively
unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional.
State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d
128, 135 (Minn.
1999). But certain exceptions permit
warrantless searches. Geer v. State,406 N.W.2d 34, 35 (Minn.
App. 1987), review denied (Minn. July 15, 1987). If police conduct a warrantless search, “[t]he
state bears the burden of showing that at least one exception [to the warrant
requirement] applies, or evidence seized without a warrant will be suppressed.” State
v. Metz, 422 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. App. 1988).
state argues that the officer had probable cause to search behind the speaker
based on the automobile exception to the search-warrant requirement. The police may conduct a warrantless search
of an automobile when they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle
contains evidence of a crime or contraband.
State v. Search, 472 N.W.2d
850, 852 (Minn.
1991). Probable cause is defined as “a
fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a
particular place.” State v. Wiley, 366 N.W.2d 265, 268 (Minn. 1985).
Probable cause may be based on reasonable inferences from the
circumstances. See State v. Vereb, 643
N.W.2d 342, 348-49 (Minn.
state contends that the officer had probable cause to believe that respondent’s
vehicle contained contraband based on his training and experience that people
hide contraband behind speakers. But the
cases that the state cites for support include facts supporting probable cause other
than the officer’s training and experience.
See Pennsylvania v. Labron,
518 U.S. 938, 940, 116 S. Ct. 2485, 2487 (1996) (holding that probable cause
existed based in part on officers observing one respondent put drugs in the
trunk of a car and observing the other respondent act in ways suggesting that
he had drugs in the trunk of a car); United
States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 798, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 2159 (1982) (holding
that probable cause existed based on information from an informant that
narcotics were being sold out of the trunk of a car); State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 136-37 (Minn. 1999) (holding that probable
cause existed because an informant described a vehicle that contained a large
amount of cocaine hidden inside or underneath the vehicle); State v. Pederson-Maxwell, 619 N.W.2d
777, 779 (Minn. App. 2000) (holding that probable cause existed because an
informant purchased marijuana out of the vehicle). Here, the officer stopped respondent after
respondent failed to signal a turn, the officer observed the vehicle’s taillight emitting a white light, and a
warrant was out for respondent’s arrest.
None of these reasons provide the officer with probable cause to
believe that the vehicle contained evidence of a crime or contraband.
But the state also relies on Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 116 S. Ct.
1657 (1996), to support its argument that loose parts on a vehicle provide
probable cause to conduct a search. In Ornelas, an officer noticed an
older-model Oldsmobile—popular with drug couriers because it is easy to hide
things in them—with California
license plates in a motel parking lot. Ornelas, 517 U.S.
at 692, 116 S. Ct. at 1659. Two men who arrived in the vehicle registered
at the motel at 4:00 a.m. without reservations; the men’s names were run and
appeared in a database of known and suspected drug traffickers. Id. In searching the vehicle, the officer noticed
that a panel above an armrest felt loose and suspected that it had been removed
to hide contraband. Id.at 693, 116 S. Ct. at 1660. The officer dismantled the panel and
discovered two kilograms of cocaine. Id. The Seventh Circuit held that probable cause
existed to believe that the panel had been pried loose in order to conceal
drugs given what the officer knew about the situation before he saw the loose
panel. United States v. Ornelas, 96 F.3d 1450 (7th Cir. 1996). But Ornelas,
and other cases that the state cites from outside this jurisdiction, include
facts other than the officer’s training and experience to support probable
cause that the vehicles contained contraband or evidence of a crime. Here, the facts do not support an independent
basis for probable cause to search behind the speaker.
Search Incident to Arrest
The state next argues that the search
behind the speaker was a search incident to arrest. The Supreme Court held in New York v.
Belton,453 U.S. 454, 460, 101 S. Ct.
2860, 2864 (1981), “that when a [police officer] has made a lawful custodial
arrest of the occupant of an automobile,
he [or she] may, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the
passenger compartment of that automobile.” The Belton court’s holding
also authorized the search of containers found in the passenger
compartment. Belton,453 U.S. at 460, 101 S. Ct.
at 2864. The Court defined “containers”
as “any object capable of holding
another object. . . . [Including] closed or open glove compartments, consoles,
or other receptacles located anywhere within the passenger compartment, as well
as luggage, boxes, bags, clothing, and the like.” Id. at 460-61 n.4, 101 S. Ct. 2864 n.4. The
rationale for this search-incident-to-arrest exception is to ensure officer
safety by removing any weapons and to prevent the concealment or destruction of
evidence. State v. Varnado,582 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1998); see
also Chimel v. California,395 U.S. 752, 763, 89 S. Ct.
2034, 2040 (1969). “A
search incident to arrest is valid by itself and does not require any
additional justification.” Varnado, 582 N.W.2d at 892.
The state contends that because the officer
was permitted to search the passenger compartment of the vehicle and the area within
the driver’s reach, he was permitted to search behind the speaker that was only
six inches away from respondent. This
expansive reading of Belton
is without merit. Belton intended to create a bright-line
rule that the passenger compartment of the automobile could be searched
incident to a lawful arrest. We do not
need to determine that a loose speaker in the interior door is part of the passenger
compartment, because doing so would expand the reading of Belton and we would no longer have a bright-line rule. Thus, in applying the Belton rule, the loose speaker was not part of the passenger
compartment and the search was invalid.
The state also argues
that the search was a valid inventory search.
An inventory search of an impounded vehicle is an exception to the
warrant requirement. City of St. Paul v. Myles,298 Minn.
298, 304-05, 218 N.W.2d 697, 701 (1974).
Inventory searches do not require probable cause. State v. Holmes,569 N.W.2d 181, 186 (Minn. 1997).
Inventories conducted prior to a car’s impoundment have been found to be
justified as necessary to protect the owner’s property, to insure against
claims of loss, and to guard the police from potential danger. Colorado
v. Bertine,479 U.S. 367, 372, 107 S. Ct.
738, 741 (1987).
In order for an inventory search to be
lawful, police must “(1) follow standard procedures in carrying out the search and
(2) perform the search, at least in part, for the purpose of obtaining an
inventory and not for the sole purpose of investigation.” State
v. Ture, 632 N.W.2d 621, 628 (Minn.
2001). Here, the police department’s policy
provides that vehicles may be impounded if the operator has been lawfully
arrested. The policy also provides that
an impounded vehicle is subject to an inventory search to ensure that all items
in the vehicle are documented and returned to the owner. An officer is permitted to search the
passenger compartment; the glove compartment; the trunk; and any containers,
such as boxes or suitcases, unless locked, found in the vehicle. The policy does not permit an officer to
search behind a speaker that is slightly detached. And the cases that the state relies on do not
support its argument. See Bertine, 479 U.S. at 367, 107 S. Ct.
at 738 (searching a closed backpack); South
Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 366, 96 S. Ct. 3092, 3095 (1976)
(searching an unlocked glove compartment); State
v. Ailport, 413 N.W.2d 140, 143 (Minn. App. 1987) (searching an unlocked
suitcase found in the trunk), review denied (Minn. Nov. 18, 1987); State v. Marshall, 411 N.W.2d 276, 278
(Minn. App. 1987) (finding baggie containing a white powdery substance stuffed
in the mag slots of the rear wheel), review
denied (Minn. Oct. 26, 1987). These
cases include searches of places that are permitted in the police department’s
policy and were conducted to obtain an inventory. It is not the same case here because the
search behind a loose speaker is not permitted in the police department’s
policy and a proper inventory search is conducted to protect property, insure
against loss, and to protect a police officer from danger. It is not reasonable to believe that an
officer would expect to find the same type of personal belongings behind a
loose speaker that would be found in a glove compartment, trunk, box or
suitcase. Further, although Marshallincludes a search of an area outside of
the vehicle, this court indicated that the driver attempted to hide the baggie
while struggling with an officer during an arrest. Marshall, 411
N.W.2d at 278. This court also noted
that the driver had less of an expectation of privacy with respect to the area searched. Id.at 279 n.1. The facts in Marshallare readily distinguishable from those
presented here. Thus, the search behind
the speaker was not permitted under the inventory-search exception.