Ries v. State, A16-0220

Decision Date05 December 2018
Docket NumberA16-0220
Citation920 N.W.2d 620
Parties Justin Stephen RIES, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, v. STATE of Minnesota, Appellant/Cross-Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jessica Merz Godes, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent/cross-appellant.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Kaarin Long, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant/cross-respondent.


MCKEIG, Justice.

In 2013, police responded to a 911 emergency call from a distraught woman who sought help because a man with a gun was in her apartment and she was afraid for the safety of herself and her infant child. When the police arrived, they found the man, later identified as Justin Stephen Ries, asleep on a couch. Police checked Ries for firearms by patting him down while he was asleep, found the handgun, and removed it. Ries, a felon, was not eligible to possess a firearm and was tried and convicted of that crime. See Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a) (2018).

On postconviction review, Ries argued that police unreasonably searched and seized him, violating his Fourth Amendment rights. Ries also argued that, because a juror was actually biased, the district court erred when it denied his motion to remove that juror. The postconviction court rejected his Fourth Amendment argument, concluding that the officers were performing a "community caretaking function" when they checked Ries for firearms, and removed and secured the gun. The postconviction court, however, agreed that Ries was entitled to a new trial because a juror was actually biased and was not sufficiently rehabilitated. The court of appeals affirmed on both issues, but the court of appeals concluded the pat-frisk of Ries was reasonable under the exception to the warrant requirement recognized in Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), as opposed to the postconviction court’s "community caretaking function" rationale. Ries v. State , 889 N.W.2d 308, 318 (Minn. App. 2016).

The State petitioned for further review on the juror issue. Ries petitioned for conditional cross-review on the Fourth Amendment issue. We agree that Ries is entitled to a new trial because of the presence of an actually biased juror and affirm the court of appeals on that issue. We also hold that the pat-frisk of Ries was valid under the emergency-aid exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. We therefore affirm the court of appeals, although on different grounds.


In the early morning hours of January 5, 2013, officers responded to a call for help at an apartment in Saint Paul. Jeffrey Korus, one of the officers on the scene, testified that a "weapons call" was received from a woman, S.A., who told the 911 operator that there was a man in her apartment whom she did not know and that he was in possession of a handgun. S.A. wanted the man removed from her apartment, and she said she was afraid for the safety of her six-month-old child, who was also in the apartment. Officer Korus testified that he found S.A. outside the apartment building and extremely frantic. Officer Korus also testified that S.A. was crying, shaken, and, at first, had difficulty talking. S.A. again reported, this time to Officer Korus, that she did not know the men inside her apartment, the men had been drinking, and she was afraid of one of the men, reportedly in possession of a handgun. She told Officer Korus that she was afraid for her child.

Officer Korus asked S.A. for details about the layout of the apartment, and where in the apartment the child and the man with the gun were located. Two other officers arrived, and after S.A. consented to entry into the apartment by the officers, they entered with their guns drawn.

The officers discovered Ries in the living room, passed out on a couch. Two other men were also asleep in the room, one on the floor and another on a different couch. The child was asleep in the next room.

After performing a brief sweep to secure the apartment, the next objective of the officers was to secure the handgun. Officer Korus testified that he was concerned that if they woke Ries without first securing the handgun, he might "act erratically," and that was "a risk [they] didn't want to take." The officers "wanted to remove the threat" before waking Ries.

While another officer held Ries’s hands, Officer Korus performed a pat-frisk of Ries to locate the gun. After the officers turned Ries over, Officer Korus saw the wooden handle of the gun sticking out of Ries’s waistband. Officer Korus removed the gun and temporarily placed it in a different room. Ries did not wake up while the police patted him down looking for the gun, and at no point, before waking Ries, did any of the responding officers suspect criminal activity or intend to arrest anyone in the apartment.

Once the officers woke Ries, they identified him and ran a criminal history check. The result showed that he was ineligible to possess a firearm based on a prior felony conviction for a "crime of violence" as defined by Minn. Stat. § 624.712, subd. 5 (2018). The officers later learned that Ries was a friend of S.A.’s brother, who was also a tenant of the apartment and present at the time of the pat-frisk.

Ries was charged with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person. See Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a). Before trial, Ries moved to suppress the handgun, arguing that one officer "seized" him (by holding his hands) and another officer "searched" him (by performing the pat-frisk). Ries argued that the seizure and search of his person was unreasonable under Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), because the officers lacked the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity. The State responded that the limited seizure and search were reasonable under the "emergency exception" to the warrant requirement.

After an omnibus hearing, the district court denied the suppression motion. The district court found that responding officers entered S.A.’s apartment "motivated by the need to render assistance" to S.A. and her infant child. The district court determined that the officers performed this search under the reasonable belief that if they did not secure the weapon before waking Ries, he might wake up, "be quite startled, and possibly reach for the handgun[,] creating a very dangerous situation" that would threaten the safety of the officers, S.A., and her infant child. Accordingly, the district court held that the brief seizure and search of Ries was objectively reasonable under the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement,1 and in the alternative, was a permissible Terry pat-frisk.

At trial, during voir dire, a prospective juror, Juror 18, disclosed that she was employed as a 911 operator. When asked by the district court whether it was possible that Juror 18 would give more or less weight to a police officer’s testimony, Juror 18 responded "[p]robably, yes" because she is "their backup." When Juror 18 was asked if it would be hard for her to separate her experience as a 911 operator and simply listen to the evidence as it is presented, she responded "[y]eah." When asked whether she could listen to the facts and make a determination of guilt based on what she heard, Juror 18 answered "yes, I think."

Ries moved to strike Juror 18 for cause. The district court again asked Juror 18 whether she would give the testimony of police officers more credibility or weight because they were police officers. Juror 18 responded:

I think I would. Just as a 911 operator, I would believe that they were giving the facts the way that they understand them, and I think that I would have a better understanding of where they were coming from as peace officers having been their partner essentially off the street. So whether or not I would think that it was more credible than the suspect’s—also his version, no.

Juror 18 then said, "I think if we were at the point where they were both severely conflicted with each other, then I think I would side with the police officer ... because I would believe that he wasn't lying, and I might believe that the suspect was." In an attempt to rehabilitate Juror 18, the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: But what would you base that on, on the fact that he was a peace officer, or on the fact that he doesn't have a dog in this fight?
[JUROR 18]: Ah, I don't know, because I've known some peace officers that I probably wouldn't believe, so I—that’s a hard question, and I guess without knowing the facts, you know, I—I would honestly try to look at both sides. But I do know from experience that they conflict a lot.
[JUROR 18]: So I certainly would do my best to be fair.
THE COURT: And so let me just see if I can recap this. What you just said was that if the peace officer said something, but you're getting a story from somebody else who is not in law enforcement—okay, that—I guess what I want to know is, what is it that causes you to believe the peace officer over someone else? Is it simply because they are a peace officer, or are you going to base it on how you would judge anybody else that’s—that you've met for the first time and you're trying to figure out whether they're tell[ing] you the truth?
[JUROR 18]: Right. I guess probably what you said is that they—the defendant in this instance has more at stake I guess would be probably to, you know—they do have more at stake in this instance, so I would hope the peace officer was being objective. But not hearing the case, it’s hard to say.

When asked again whether she would base her decision solely on the fact that it was a police officer testifying, Juror 18 answered, "No."

The district court denied Ries’s motion to strike Juror 18 for cause, finding that the juror showed actual bias but that she was sufficiently rehabilitated. Ries...

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