Cramer v. Commissioner of Public Safety, No. A03-1953 (MN 1/18/2005), A03-1953.

Decision Date18 January 2005
Docket NumberNo. A03-1953.,A03-1953.
PartiesMichael Dean Cramer, petitioner, Appellant, v. Commissioner of Public Safety, Respondent.
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)

Appeal from the District Court, Stearns County, File No. C2-03-1125.

Michael Dean Cramer, Kimball, MN, (pro se appellant)

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Allen Louie, Sheila M. Fitzgerald Steichen, Assistant Attorneys General, St. Paul, MN, (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.



Pro se appellant Michael Dean Cramer challenges a district court order sustaining the revocation of his driving privileges under the implied-consent law, Minn. Stat. § 169A.50-.53 (2002). Appellant argues that (1) the district court erred in finding that his wife voluntarily consented to the entry of two law-enforcement deputies into his home; (2) the deputies did not have probable cause to arrest him; and (3) his right to consult with an attorney was not vindicated.1 We affirm.


In the early morning hours of February 14, 2003, an identified caller telephoned 911 to report that a white Jeep Cherokee was driving erratically on Highway 15. The caller was unable to read the vehicle's license-plate number but informed the dispatcher that the Jeep had turned off the highway onto Beaver Lake Road in Stearns County.

Sheriff Deputy Orvis responded immediately and proceeded down Beaver Lake Road, where he observed that a mailbox and paper-delivery box had been knocked over and were lying on the road. Tire tracks led from the damaged mailbox to a nearby driveway. Another officer, Deputy Rose, also arrived at the scene, and the two officers followed the tracks down the driveway, where they saw a white Jeep Cherokee that matched the caller's somewhat vague description parked in front of the residence. The vehicle's engine was still warm, indicating that it had recently been driven. While there was no substantial damage to the Jeep, Rose observed a few small scratches and colored paint marks on it. Rose suspected that this minor damage was caused when the vehicle struck the mailbox.

The deputies proceeded to the home's front door and knocked loudly. Appellant's wife answered, and the deputies entered the home while appellant's wife went upstairs to wake the appellant. The parties dispute whether or not appellant's wife consented to the deputies' entry into the residence. Appellant's wife testified that the officers entered without requesting or receiving verbal permission. But she also admitted that she did not ask the deputies to leave but, instead, went upstairs to wake up her husband. Deputy Orvis testified that he asked for permission to enter the home and that appellant's wife said, "Yes." Deputy Rose testified that Orvis asked her, "May we come in?" and that appellant's wife responded affirmatively, saying, "Sure."

When appellant voluntarily came downstairs, he showed signs of intoxication. As Deputy Orvis explained in his narrative report, "I could smell a strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from him. I also observed watery and red eyes." Appellant denied drinking alcohol that evening and blamed his appearance on the medicine that he takes nightly for pain relief. He was then questioned by the deputies and asked to perform field sobriety tests. In his report, Orvis stated that appellant "had a difficult time following directions during the field test. He was unable to complete the tests properly and failed to follow my directions." Later, when asked to provide a preliminary breath test, appellant refused and was eventually arrested for driving while impaired in the first degree under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(1), .24, subd. 2 (2002).

Appellant was transported to the local jail, where Deputy Orvis read him the implied-consent advisory. The events that transpired at the jail are also disputed. Deputy Orvis testified that he explained the implied-consent process to appellant and asked appellant if he wished to speak with an attorney. Appellant responded affirmatively, and Orvis provided him with phone books so that appellant could seek legal advice before submitting to a breath test. Although it was nearly 2:00 in the morning, appellant was able to contact an attorney, who was supposed to call appellant back. In the meantime, appellant "just sat there" for approximately 12 minutes, waiting for a call that never arrived. Orvis asked appellant if he would like to try to reach other attorneys, but appellant declined. Finally, after 12 minutes, appellant made a call to another attorney, and Orvis waited another 5 minutes. At that time, Orvis informed appellant that he would "have to make a decision as to whether he was going to submit to a breath test." Appellant refused the test, even after being informed that it was a crime to do so. In total, Orvis testified that appellant had approximately 24 minutes to talk with an attorney and was unable to do so.

Appellant testified that Orvis gave him the opportunity to contact an attorney, but that Orvis interrupted him by asking appellant questions about the whereabouts of the citation that Orvis had previously issued him. Appellant continued to try to contact other attorneys and finally reached one who promised to call back, but never did. When forced to make a decision about submitting to the test, appellant refused. Appellant stated that he refused the test because, according to the form and in his own words, "[I] was home for over an hour and [the deputy did not] observe me driving."

After considering testimony from both deputies, appellant, appellant's wife, and appellant's son, the district court sustained the revocation of appellant's driving privileges. The district court concluded that (1) the warrantless entry into appellant's home was consensual and voluntary; (2) the deputies had probable cause to arrest appellant; and (3) appellant's right to consult with an attorney was vindicated. This appeal follows.


The district court's findings of fact are entitled to the same deference as a jury verdict and will be upheld if the court's findings are reasonably based on evidence adduced. State v. Thurmer, 348 N.W.2d 776, 778 (Minn. App. 1984). Because the district court has the opportunity to judge the credibility of witnesses, we will not set aside findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Thorud v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 349 N.W.2d 343, 344 (Minn. App. 1984); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. As the supreme court has explained, great deference is accorded "a [district] court's findings of fact because it has the advantage of hearing the testimony, assessing relative credibility of witnesses, and acquiring a thorough understanding of the circumstances unique to the matter before it." Hasnudeen v. Onan Corp., 552 N.W.2d 555, 557 (Minn. 1996). "Conclusions of law will be overturned only upon a determination that the [district] court has erroneously construed and applied the law to the facts of the case." Dehn v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 394 N.W.2d 272, 273 (Minn. App. 1986).


Appellant first argues that his wife did not consent to the deputies' warrantless entry into their home. A warrantless entry is constitutional if it is made with the voluntary consent of a person in control of the premises. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 222, 93 S. Ct. 2041, 2045 (1973); State v. Lotton, 527 N.W.2d 840, 843 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Apr. 18, 1995). This court subjects voluntary-consent claims to "careful appellate review." State v. Smallwood, 594 N.W.2d 144, 155 (Minn. 1999) (quoting State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 580 (Minn. 1997)). The question of whether consent is voluntary is a question of fact based on all relevant circumstances and the district court's determination will only be reversed if it is clearly erroneous. Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 227, 93 S. Ct. at 2047-48; State v. Howard, 373 N.W.2d 596, 599 (Minn. 1985). The state has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that consent was freely and voluntarily given. Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 548, 88 S. Ct. 1788, 1792 (1968); State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 102 (Minn. 1999).

Appellant contends that his wife acquiesced to the situation in light of the overwhelming presence of the deputies at their front door. He argues that the deputies' loud knock and physical presence, coupled with his wife's timid demeanor, mitigate against a finding that lawful consent to enter the premises was given.

Whether consent is voluntary is a factual question and is based on the totality of the circumstances. George, 557 N.W.2d at 579. Consent is voluntary if it is "the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice by its maker," rather than the product of duress or coercion, express or implied. Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 225, 93 S. Ct. at 2047. Consent is involuntary, on the other hand, if it results from circumstances that overbear the consenting party's will and impair his or her capacity for self-determination. Id. at 225-26, 93 S. Ct. at 2047.

Consent need not be oral but may be implied from a person's actions. State v. Othoudt,482 N.W.2d 218, 222 (Minn. 1992). Ordinarily, the issue is whether a person engaged in a welcoming action—gestures or movements making it clear that state actors are free to enter. See, e.g., Carlin v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 413 N.W.2d 249, 250-51 (Minn. App. 1987) (finding consent where driver's mother opened door for officer and turned around without interacting with officer). Under some circumstances, a related factor may be whether the deputies asked permission to enter. See Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d at 223 (no request to enter); State v. Buschkopf, 373 N.W.2d 756, 768 (Minn. 1985) (officers did not expressly request consent and defendant...

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