This opinion will be unpublished and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
Tracy S. Ellefson,
Filed April 17, 2007
Isanti County District Court
File No. K3-03-992
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101;
Jeffrey R. Edblad, Isanti County Attorney, Isanti County
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Sara L. Martin,
Assistant Public Defender,
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Ross, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s decision not to suppress evidence seized by law enforcement after a warrantless search of his home, arguing that no exception to the warrant requirement justified entry. Because we conclude that law enforcement could have reasonably believed that the victim of a recent or ongoing assault was inside appellant’s home and in need of immediate aid, we affirm.
August 12, 2003,
When the operator asked the caller how long ago the assault had happened, the caller stated that she had driven by ten minutes earlier. The operator questioned the caller about whether appellant had a vehicle he could leave in, to which the caller responded, “I know one thing, he hates cops, and he’s . . . really mean.” The conversation continued:
OPERATOR: Do you have any idea why [appellant] is upset?
. . . .
OPERATOR: And you saw him with a knife to her neck?
CALLER: He had a knife to her neck and he was dragging her around the yard by the hair.
CALLER: And then he was trying to take her shirt off or it was all bloody.
CALLER: And then he was trying to take her shirt off and she was sitting in her car trying to get away and I could hear her keys fly.
OPERATOR: Okay. So she was sitting in her car, what kind of car does she have?
CALLER: A white Grand Am.
It was later
Upon arriving at appellant’s
residence, the officers did not see anyone out in the yard or any vehicles in
the driveway. They checked the perimeter
of the home but did not find the victim or the suspect. The officers then decided to check for
appellant or the victim inside the home, but the door was locked. When the officers attempted to enter the home,
appellant came to the door. The officers
ordered him to lie on his stomach while he was handcuffed. The officers proceeded to search the home but
did not find the victim. But because
there was an active warrant for appellant’s arrest, the officers escorted
appellant to a patrol vehicle for transport to the
While booking appellant at the
was charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic assault in violation of
Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subds. 1(1), 1(2) (2002), and one count of felony
fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance in violation of Minn. Stat. §
152.025, subd. 2(1) (2002). But the
domestic-assault charges were later dismissed after
Appellant subsequently moved to
dismiss the case, arguing that the police did not have probable cause to enter
his home without a search warrant. Specifically,
appellant asserted that because the officers did not see any signs of an
altercation outside the residence or a vehicle or anything suspicious, the officers’
entry was unlawful. The state submitted the recording of
Appellant challenges his conviction, arguing that the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence seized after a warrantless search of his home because no exception to the warrant requirement justified entry. Specifically, appellant contends that the state failed to provide sufficient evidence to satisfy either the emergency-aid or exigent-circumstances exceptions to the warrant requirement.
the facts of this case are not in dispute, this court should “simply analyze
the facts and determine if, as a matter of law, the officers’ actions were
justified.” State v. Halla-Poe, 468 N.W.2d 570, 572 (
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 10 of
the Minnesota Constitution guarantee individuals the right to be free from
unreasonable searches and seizures by the government of “persons, houses,
papers and effects.” Under the Fourth
Amendment, searches and seizures conducted inside a home without a warrant are
presumptively unreasonable, subject to a few exceptions. Payton
Under the emergency-aid exception, law-enforcement officers “may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.” Lemieux, 726 N.W.2d at 787-88 (quotation omitted).
In applying the emergency exception the reviewing court should follow two principles: first, that the burden of proof is on the state to show that the circumstances meet the emergency exception, and second, that an objective standard should be applied to determine the reasonableness of the officer’s belief that there was an emergency.
482 N.W.2d at 223. In determining
whether the actions of law enforcement “meet an objective standard of
reasonableness the court should ask whether with the facts available to the
officer at the moment of the seizure or search, would a person of reasonable
caution believe that the action taken was appropriate.”
We are guided in
our analysis of the applicability of this exception by the Minnesota Supreme
Court’s recent decision in Lemieux. In Lemieux,
law-enforcement officers decided to investigate a residence that was in close
proximity to the location where a recent homicide had occurred.
After the sweep search
was conducted, a search warrant was obtained to search the residence.
defendant challenged the admission of the evidence derived from the warrantless
sweep search of the residence.
the police entry of the residence in close proximity to a brutal and seemingly random homicide was justified under the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement because the officers had reasonable grounds to believe that a burglary was in progress or had recently occurred, the entry was motivated primarily to look for possible victims, and the scope of the search was limited to the emergency.
the officers’ purpose in going to the residence was to find out if persons using the premises might have seen or heard something useful to the ongoing homicide investigation and not to gain entry to search for evidence. But once the officers were at the residence, they noted that the window screen was torn loose, the window was pushed up, the door was unlatched, and there was music inside that was skipping; the officers announced their presence, pounded loudly on the door and yelled for someone to answer the door, and they learned that someone had been in the residence that night. The officers were concerned about a “forced entry situation” or burglary and obtained limited authorization for immediate entry to look for possible victims.
are presented with similar facts here. When
Wakefield, posing as “Susan,” called 911, she gave dispatch the following
information: (1) that she had seen appellant dragging the victim around the
yard by her hair, holding a knife to her neck; (2) that the victim’s shirt was
“all bloody”; and (3) that when the victim got in her car and attempted to
drive away she “could hear her keys fly.”
Based on these
facts, we conclude that the officers had a reasonable belief that
In addition to the
emergency-aid exception, the police may also make a warrantless entry into a
dwelling in order to make a felony arrest if they have probable cause and
exigent circumstances. Payton, 445
(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.
Gray, 456 N.W.2d at 256 (citations omitted).
Here, law enforcement entered
the residence, in part, to locate the assault victim, whose life they
reasonably believed was in peril. As
noted above, this single factor alone supports a finding of exigent
circumstances. See Warden, Md. Penitentiary
v. Hayden, 387
We recognize that courts
are extremely hesitant to hold that exigent circumstances permit a warrantless
entry into a home to arrest for an offense of lesser magnitude than a
felony. See Welsh v. Wisconsin,
466 U.S. 740, 753, 104 S. Ct. 2091, 2099 (1984) (stating “it is difficult
to conceive of a warrantless home arrest that would not be unreasonable under
the Fourth Amendment when the underlying offense is extremely minor”); Othoudt,
482 N.W.2d at 223-24 (holding that the warrantless entry into defendant’s home
by officers was not justified by exigent circumstances because even if officers
had “probable cause to arrest [defendant] for the offenses he was later charged
with, those offenses [we]re misdemeanors”); Halla-Poe, 468 N.W.2d at 574
(stating “[w]e recognize a warrantless in-home arrest for a nonfelonious
offense is rarely nonviolative of the fourth amendment. On the rare occasions where such an arrest
will be upheld, the facts must be carefully scrutinized and narrowly
construed”). Appellant here was
eventually charged with felony fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance
and two counts of misdemeanor assault. But we note that our focus in
determining whether exigent circumstances existed is not on the actual crime
charged, but rather on the severity of the crime that law enforcement
reasonably believed to have been committed at the time of the entry. See
 Appellant also took issue with the fact that Deputy Erickson did not attend his omnibus hearing, arguing that appellant could not make a complete record in Deputy Erickson’s absence.
 The misdemeanor-assault charges were likely
the result of