State v. Butcher

Decision Date21 March 2022
Docket NumberA21-1342
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals
PartiesState of Minnesota, Appellant, v. Alexander James Butcher, Respondent.

State of Minnesota, Appellant,
v.
Alexander James Butcher, Respondent.

No. A21-1342

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

March 21, 2022


This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).

Becker County District Court File No. 03-CR-21-1028

Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Brian W. McDonald, Becker County Attorney, Braden F. Sczepanski, First Assistant County Attorney, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota (for appellant)

Mark D. Nyvold, Fridley, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Reilly, Judge; and Gaïtas, Judge.

GAÏTAS, JUDGE.

In this pretrial appeal from an order suppressing evidence of a robbery that police found in respondent Alexander James Butcher's apartment, appellant State of Minnesota argues that the district court erred in concluding that the officers' warrantless search

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violated Butcher's constitutional rights. Because the police reasonably believed that Butcher had abandoned the apartment and that the landlord had authority to allow the search, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

A convenience store in Audubon was robbed on May 25, 2021. The robber entered the store with his head and face covered and claimed to have a gun. He gave the clerk a handwritten note that said "money" and "cigs." The clerk gave the robber over $300 from the registers and two packs of Newport cigarettes. A customer asked the robber, "What [is] going on?" and the robber responded, "You know what's going on" and threatened to shoot him. Then, the robber fled from the store, heading north.

A week later, police spoke with an informant who claimed that he found a "dollar bill wrapper" in a sink in Butcher's apartment the day after the robbery. The apartment was just north of the convenience store.

On June 2, 2021, police contacted the landlord, who agreed to meet them at the apartment the next day. The landlord told the officers that Butcher had moved out, and that he was in the process of cleaning and repairing damage so that he could rent to a new tenant. He gave the police permission to search the apartment for evidence, and the officers searched without first obtaining a search warrant. Although there were still some furnishings in the apartment, including a tattered sofa and a broken television, it was largely empty.

During the search, the police found a black Sharpie marker and a notepad that matched the note that the robber had used. They also discovered crumpled paper with

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handwriting that stated, "Be smart empty register this is not a joke." And they found a money wrapper, an empty Newport cigarette pack, and a pair of tan cargo pants like those that the robber had worn.

Following the search, Butcher was charged with second-degree aggravated robbery, Minn. Stat. § 609.245, subd. 2 (2020), and threats of violence, Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2020). Butcher moved to suppress the evidence found in his apartment, arguing that the landlord did not have authority to consent to the search and the warrantless search violated his constitutional rights.

The district court held an evidentiary hearing on Butcher's motion. At that hearing, two witnesses testified for the state-the landlord and one of the investigating officers.

According to the landlord, Butcher had moved into the apartment in March 2021 and had paid rent for the months of March and April. At some point, Butcher shared his concern with the landlord that he would be unable to pay rent in May. The landlord went to the apartment around May 1 to speak with Butcher about obtaining rental assistance. Approximately one week later, the landlord again spoke with Butcher, who informed him that he was moving. No date or timeline for the move was discussed, but the landlord "took it as soon."

The following week, possibly between May 14 and 17, the landlord returned to the apartment and found the door open and the apartment keys on the counter. According to the landlord, the apartment was "trashed." He installed a new deadbolt lock and left a note on the door for Butcher to call him. Although the landlord was unsure about the exact timing of these events, he believed that the "note must have been on the door for a couple

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of weeks." After another week or two, the landlord returned to start cleaning the apartment. On June 3, an officer requested his consent for a search. Before he allowed the officers into the apartment, the landlord confirmed with the tenant below-who "could hear if anybody had been upstairs"-that Butcher had not been in the apartment "up until the point" when the police contacted him.

The investigating officer testified that, based on his investigation, he believed Butcher had vacated the apartment at least a week before the search. Another tenant who lived below Butcher's apartment reported to him that Butcher had moved out the day after the...

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