862 N.W.2d 831 (N.D. 2015), 20140370, State v. Williams

Docket Nº20140370
Citation862 N.W.2d 831, 2015 ND 103
Opinion JudgeKapsner, Justice.
Party NameState of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Andrew Robert Williams, Defendant and Appellant
AttorneyTracy J. Peters, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee. Scott P. Brand, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.
Judge PanelCarol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J.
Case DateApril 28, 2015
CourtSupreme Court of North Dakota

Page 831

862 N.W.2d 831 (N.D. 2015)

2015 ND 103

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee

v.

Andrew Robert Williams, Defendant and Appellant

No. 20140370

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 28, 2015

Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas R. Olson, Judge.

Tracy J. Peters, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Scott P. Brand, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.

OPINION

Page 832

Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] Andrew Williams appeals from a criminal judgment entered after conditionally pleading guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and drug paraphernalia. We hold the law enforcement officer's use of a drug canine in a condominium building's hallway did not violate Williams' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. We affirm.

I

[¶2] After receiving " intel" from the Fargo Police Department's Narcotics Unit that marijuana was being sold out of Williams' residence, law enforcement officers went to Williams' condominium building with Disco, a drug-sniffing dog. Upon entering an open gate of a fence surrounding the property, opening an unlocked, unsecured common door, and entering a common hallway of the four-plex condominium building, Disco sniffed the only two doors in the hallway, the door to Williams' privately owned condominium unit and the door to Williams' neighbor's unit. Disco alerted to Williams' condominium door, and Disco's handler also testified

Page 833

he smelled burnt marijuana upon entering the hallway.

[¶3] The officers subsequently obtained a search warrant and searched the premises. On May 20, 2014, Williams was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver within one thousand feet of a school, a class A felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class A misdemeanor. Williams moved to suppress evidence, and the district court denied his motion at the August 25, 2014 hearing on the motion. The State amended count one to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a class B felony, and Williams conditionally pled guilty to both charges, reserving his right to appeal.

II

[¶4] On appeal, Williams argues the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because the use of a drug-sniffing dog in a privately owned condominium hallway was a warrantless and illegal search, and any and all evidence obtained through that search is inadmissible.

[¶5] When reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence, this Court defers to the district court's factual findings and resolves conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. State v. Doohen, 2006 ND 239, ¶ 8, 724 N.W.2d 158. This Court will affirm a district court's decision on a motion to suppress if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the court's findings and if it is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. " Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law." Id. (citation omitted). This Court reviews constitutional rights violations under the de novo standard of review. Beylund v. Levi, 2015 ND 18, ¶ 8, 859 N.W.2d 403.

III

[¶6] Williams argues a warrantless drug dog sniff within a privately owned condominium's curtilage constitutes an unreasonable search.

[¶7] The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 8, of our state constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. State v. Woinarowicz, 2006 ND 179, ¶ 21, 720 N.W.2d 635. Warrantless searches and seizures are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, subject to a few well-delineated exceptions. State v. DeCoteau, 1999 ND 77, ¶ 7, 592 N.W.2d 579. " Evidence discovered during a warrantless search when no exception exists must be suppressed under the exclusionary rule." State v. Kuruc, 2014 ND 95, ¶ 12, 846 N.W.2d 314 (citation omitted).

A

[¶8] Williams argues the district court erred in finding the hallway was not within his condominium unit's curtilage; he maintains the hallway is curtilage and should receive heightened constitutional protection.

[¶9] The Fourth Amendment protects a home's curtilage. State v. Nguyen, 2013 ND 252, ¶ 13, 841 N.W.2d 676. " Curtilage has been defined 'as that area near a dwelling, not necessarily enclosed, that generally includes buildings or other adjuncts used for domestic purposes.'" State v. Mittleider, 2011 ND 242, ¶ 15, 809 N.W.2d 303 (citation omitted). The extent of a home's curtilage is determined by factors bearing upon " whether an individual reasonably may expect that the area in question should be treated as the home itself." Nguyen, at ¶ 13. In United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 301, 107 S.Ct. 1134, 94 L.Ed.2d 326 (1987), the United States Supreme Court outlined factors to consider

Page 834

when defining the extent of a home's curtilage, including the proximity of the home to the area claimed to be curtilage, whether the area is within an enclosure surrounding the home, the nature of the uses to which the area is put, and the steps taken to protect the area from observation by individuals passing by. The Court went on to state:

We do not suggest that combining these factors produces a finely tuned formula that, when mechanically applied, yields a " correct" answer to all extent-of-curtilage questions. Rather, these factors are useful analytical tools only to the degree that, in any given case, they bear upon the centrally relevant consideration--whether the area in question is so intimately tied to the home itself that it should be placed under the home's " umbrella" of Fourth Amendment protection.

Id.

[¶10] Applying the Dunn factors, Williams argues the hallway is curtilage because it is not just " proximate" to his home, but it is actually a part of his home as it is built into and is part of the building's structure, and it is the only way to gain access to the inner part of his home. Williams also argues two enclosures surround the hallway, the outside fence and the common door to the hallway. In addition, he asserts he uses the hallway every day as a private entrance to his home, he maintains and cleans it, and his children play there. Finally, he argues the fence, which encloses the property and blocks public access to the property's yard, and the common door to the hallway demonstrate he has taken steps to protect the hallway from observation by individuals passing by.

[¶11] The State argues the concept of curtilage is " significantly modified when applied to a multi-family dwelling." See Nguyen, 2013 ND 252, ¶ 13, 841 N.W.2d 676 (common hallway is not within curtilage of individual's apartment); see also United States v. Cruz Pagan, 537 F.2d 554, 558 (1st Cir. 1976) (" In a modern urban multi-family apartment house, the area within the 'curtilage' is necessarily much more limited than in the case of a rural dwelling subject to one owner's control." ).

[¶12] While the Dunn factors may be helpful in defining whether an area is within a home's curtilage, the United States Supreme Court has recognized these factors are not a " finely tuned formula" that can be mechanically applied to yield a " 'correct' answer to all extent-of-curtilage questions." Dunn, 480 U.S. at 301. Rather, they are simply helpful tools to help aid in determining if the area is so " intimately tied to the home itself that it should be placed under the home's 'umbrella' of Fourth Amendment protection." Id. Often, the physical nature of multi-family dwellings raises the issue of whether individuals living in those types of dwellings have a reasonable expectation of privacy in common or shared areas. Because this case involves a multi-unit dwelling and a common area, an analysis of the Dunn factors, alone, is insufficient to determine whether the drug sniff was a search; a reasonable expectation of privacy analysis must also be conducted.

B

[¶13] Williams argues the district court erred in finding there was no violation of his expectation of privacy.

[¶14] " Violations of the Fourth Amendment are not solely measured by property rights." Nguyen, 2013 ND 252, ¶ 8, 841 N.W.2d 676. " A search does not occur unless the government violates an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy." Id. (citation omitted). If a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy

Page 835

in an area, the government must first obtain a warrant prior to conducting a search, unless one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. Id. Two elements comprise a person's reasonable expectation of privacy: " 1)...

To continue reading

Request your trial