This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Erick Morris Latt,
Filed February 27, 2007
McLeod County District Court
File No. K4-05-949
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Marc A. Sebora, Hutchinson City Attorney, City Center, 111 Hassan Street S.E., Hutchinson, MN 55350 (for respondent)
Thomas H. Shiah, Kimberly K. Hall, Law Offices of Thomas H. Shiah, Ltd., 247 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from a conviction for third-degree DWI, appellant argues that (1) a police officer who observed appellant speeding and driving erratically did not have probable cause to arrest him, and, therefore, illegally entered his garage; (2) the district court erred in ruling that evidence of appellant’s intoxication would inevitably have been discovered; (3) the state failed to present a record supporting inevitable discovery; and (4) the record, instead, shows that appellant would have closed his garage door and gone into his house had the officer not parked his squad car under the garage door. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant Erick Morris Latt argues that evidence of his intoxication was not admissible under the inevitable-discovery doctrine because the state failed to show that the evidence would inevitably have been discovered. When reviewing pretrial orders on motions to suppress evidence, this court independently reviews the facts to determine, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in failing to suppress the evidence. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999). When determining whether probable cause exists to make a warrantless arrest, this court “independently reviews the facts to determine the reasonableness of the conduct of police.” State v. Riley, 568 N.W.2d 518, 523 (Minn. 1997). We review the district court’s findings of fact in determinations of probable cause for clear error, giving “due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by [the district court].” State v. Lee, 585 N.W.2d 378, 382-83 (Minn. 1998) (quoting Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699, 116 S. Ct. 1657, 1663 (1996)).
The United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. “This constitutional protection extends to all places where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, including the home and its curtilage.” Haase v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 679 N.W.2d 743, 746 (Minn. App. 2004). The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that the curtilage of a home includes the garage. State v. Crea, 305 Minn. 342, 345, 233 N.W.2d 736, 739 (1975). The district court found that the officer’s entry into appellant’s garage—by parking the squad car such that the front end was inside the garage—was a violation of appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights. While neither party challenged this finding on appeal, we “may review any other matter as the interests of justice may require.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.02, subd. 11. We conclude, based on the facts of this case, that because appellant never attempted to close the garage door, the entry of the officer’s vehicle into the garage was not a violation of appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The facts of this case are undisputed. While on patrol, a police officer observed appellant speeding and then proceed through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop. Appellant did not stop when the officer activated his lights and siren, but rather turned and entered a residential garage. The officer pulled into the driveway and stopped such that the front end of his squad car was inside the garage in order to prevent the garage door from shutting. Appellant testified that he never heard the officer’s siren because he had music playing and never saw the lights because the squad car was never directly behind him. The officer testified that he did not believe that appellant was attempting to flee. After appellant exited the vehicle, he immediately noticed and approached the officer, who was standing just outside the garage. As appellant talked to the officer, who was approximately three feet away, the officer detected an odor of alcohol and observed that appellant had bloodshot and watery eyes. The officer twice asked appellant to step outside the garage. Appellant refused and took a half-step sideways, away from the officer. Believing that appellant may attempt to flee or enter his home, the officer stepped inside the garage, grabbed appellant by the arm and escorted him outside the garage. Once outside the garage, appellant admitted that he had consumed alcohol that evening. After conducting field sobriety tests, the officer arrested appellant. Appellant submitted to a breath test, which resulted in an alcohol concentration of .13. Appellant was charged with third-degree DWI. Appellant moved to suppress evidence of his intoxication. The district court denied the motion and the case was submitted pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980). The district court found appellant guilty of third-degree DWI.
While the facts of this case are similar to those in Haase, the differences between the cases are significant enough that we reach a different conclusion than the court in Haase. In Haase, officers received a report of a vehicle driving erratically, which included a vehicle description and license-plate number. Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 745. Unable to locate the vehicle, an officer ran a license-plate check and proceeded to the home of the vehicle’s registered owner. Id. Without activating the lights on his squad car, the officer parked his car, walked up to the garage and waited for the driver to exit the vehicle. Id. From inside the vehicle, the driver activated the automatic garage door in order to close the garage door. Id. The officer used his leg to trip the auto-reverse sensor. Id. The district court declined to suppress the evidence of Haase’s intoxication seized as a result of the officer’s warrantless entry. Id. We reversed the district court, holding that “Haase did not abandon his reasonable expectation of privacy in his garage by opening the garage door to gain entry.” Id. at 748.
In coming to that conclusion, we distinguished the facts in Haase from those in Tracht v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 592 N.W.2d 863 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999). In Tracht, we held that constitutional protections do not extend to those areas around the home that are “impliedly open.” Tracht, 592 N.W.2d at 865. “Such areas are not cloaked with a reasonable expectation of privacy because they are areas where a visitor may be expected to go. Impliedly open areas include ordinary routes of access to the entrance of a residence, such as driveways or sidewalks.” Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 746 (citations omitted). In Tracht, officers entered an open garage of a residence to access the service door to the home. Tracht, 592 N.W.2d at 864. We held that the garage was impliedly open to the officers solely “for the purpose of knocking on the service door,” but not for “looking for evidence in the garage.” Id. at 865. In reversing the district court in Haase, we articulated the reasons for distinguishing the case from Tracht. Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 746. Specifically, that Haase had not left his garage door open, the officer accomplished the entry by interrupting the closing of Haase’s garage door, and the officer entered the garage to investigate whether Haase was driving while impaired, not to access a service door. Id. at 746-47. Based on those differences, we held that “Haase did not abandon his reasonable expectation of privacy in his garage by opening the garage door to gain entry.” Id. at 748.
Similarly, there are at least three reasons to distinguish this case from Haase. First, Haase attempted to close his garage door. Here, appellant never attempted to close his garage door, but rather exited his vehicle, and approached the officer. Second, in Haase, the officer interrupted the closing of the garage door. Here, even though the officer parked his squad car under the garage door to prevent it from closing, he did not interfere with the garage door closing because appellant never attempted to close it. Finally, in Haase, after someone else reported erratic driving, the officer entered the garage to determine whether Haase had been driving while impaired. Here, the officer personally observed appellant commit several traffic violations and, with his siren and flashing lights activated, continuously followed appellant. In this situation, the entry of the officer’s vehicle into appellant’s open garage did not constitute a violation of appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Because we conclude that there was no Fourth Amendment violation, the intoxication evidence was admissible and appellant’s conviction is affirmed.
KLAPHAKE, Judge (dissenting)
I respectfully dissent. Because I believe that the officer’s actions violated appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights, I would reverse the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion to suppress.
The officer here decided to follow appellant’s vehicle after he observed it speeding. The officer followed appellant’s vehicle up his driveway and directly into his garage, blocking appellant from closing the garage door with his police vehicle. At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that he “thought at the time that the driver may try to shut the garage door,” so he “pulled up far enough behind the vehicle so that the garage door could not come down.”
Fourth Amendment privacy protection extends to a person’s house and the curtilage area adjacent to the house, including the garage. State v. Crea, 305 Minn. 342, 345, 233 N.W.2d 736, 739 (1975). Areas of curtilage that are impliedly open to public use, such as driveways and porches, are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection because they do not offer a person a reasonable expectation of privacy. See id. at. 346, 233 N.W.2d at 739. As to garages, if a person leaves his or her garage door open, the garage is not subject to Fourth Amendment protection and is considered impliedly open to the public, at least for the purpose of providing an entry point to the home. Tracht v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 592 N.W.2d 863, 865 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999). But if a person “briefly opens a [garage] door to enter the home[,]” the expectation of privacy is not lost, and police may not hamper the closing of a garage door to gain access to a garage because “[t]he act of closing the door forecloses any reasonable conclusion that the garage was impliedly open.” Haase v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 679 N.W.2d 743, 747 (Minn. App. 2004).
As in Haase, the officer here forcibly blocked appellant from closing his garage door after it had been opened to allow his vehicle to gain entry. The majority attempts to parse the facts of Haase and insists that factual differences in Haase call for a different result here. I disagree. In Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 745, the officer used his body to block the defendant’s garage door from closing; here, the officer used his vehicle to block the garage door from closing. While there was no testimony as to whether appellant was about to close the garage door when the officer blocked it, the fact that it was night time and that appellant had just opened the door from a closed position in order to pull his vehicle inside demonstrates that the garage was “cloaked with a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 746, and that it was not an area “impliedly open” to the public within the meaning of Tracht, 592 N.W.2d at 865. Further, appellant testified that he was unaware that the officer had been following him, and the officer testified that he did not believe that appellant was trying to evade him or flee.
Under these circumstances, I would conclude that appellant retained a reasonable expectation of privacy when he drove into his garage and that police violated his Fourth Amendment rights by following him into the garage and forcibly blocking him from closing the garage door. Because the driving offense for which appellant was being sought was not of the serious type that would constitute an exigent circumstance to justify warrantless entry into the garage, any evidence obtained as a result of the improper entry should be suppressed. See Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 747; State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992).
I would therefore reverse the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion to suppress.