State v. Cochran, 20200355

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
Writing for the CourtJENSEN, CHIEF JUSTICE.
PartiesState of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant v. Elizabeth Cochran, Defendant and Appellee
Decision Date05 August 2021
Docket Number20200355

2021 ND 141

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant

Elizabeth Cochran, Defendant and Appellee

No. 20200355

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 5, 2021

Appeal from the District Court of Mercer County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Cynthia Feland, Judge.

Jessica J. Binder, State's Attorney, Stanton, ND, for plaintiff and appellant; submitted on brief.

Justin M. Balzer, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellee; submitted on brief.



[¶1] The State appeals from a district court order granting Elizabeth Cochran's motion to suppress evidence. The State argues the court erred in finding that a room used by Cochran, in a residence she shared with her son, was not a common area within the scope of a warrantless probationary search of the residence. The State also argues Cochran forfeited the opportunity to seek suppression of evidence obtained from the room by failing to object at the time of the search. Furthermore, the State argues the Court misapplied the law by requiring the State to establish the reason for the underlying probationary search. We affirm the court's order suppressing the evidence discovered during the search of the room.


[¶2] In May 2020, Cochran resided with her son and a third individual in one half of a duplex building. The residence had three bedrooms. Cochran's son was on supervised probation and subject to warrantless probationary searches. On May 7, 2020, law enforcement officers conducted a warrantless probation search of the residence. Upon entering, officers "cleared" the residence and confirmed Cochran was the only individual present. After the residence was cleared, the probation officer directed the other officers to search different areas of the residence including a room later determined to be Cochran's bedroom. Cochran remained in the living room with the probation officer during the search. Various controlled substances and drug paraphernalia were found inside Cochran's bedroom. Cochran was subsequently charged with (1) possession with intent to manufacture or deliver methamphetamine, a class B felony; (2) unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia other than marijuana, a class A misdemeanor; (3) unlawful possession of cocaine, a class A misdemeanor; (4) unlawful possession of marijuana, an infraction; and (5) unlawful possession of marijuana, an infraction.

[¶3] Cochran moved to suppress the evidence seized from her bedroom during the warrantless probationary search arguing the search of her bedroom was unconstitutional. The State resisted the motion arguing the room constituted a common area of the residence subject to the probationary search. At the motion hearing, the probation officer testified she was familiar with the residence and had conducted searches of that residence on at least two prior occasions. The probation officer testified she was aware different people lived in the contested room at different times, but believed the room was typically used as a storage room. To the probation officer's knowledge, that bedroom was never locked, and officers did not need to forcibly open any doors during the May 7, 2020 search.

[¶4] A sheriff's deputy testified that the probation officer instructed him to search the bedroom after officers cleared the residence. The deputy testified the bedroom looked like a storage room with a bed in it. In addition to finding drugs and drug paraphernalia in the bedroom, the deputy found various other items including Cochran's purse and her identification. The deputy indicated there was no locking mechanism on the bedroom door, and the door was open when he entered the room. He also opined that anyone who lived in the home would have access to the room.

[¶5] Cochran testified that she rented the room from her son for $300 per month and used the room as her bedroom. She testified the bedroom door has a deadbolt in addition to the door-handle lock. Cochran claimed she was the only person who had access to the key that locks the door to her room. During the search on May 7, 2020, Cochran remained in the living room with the probation officer while the residence was cleared and searched. She asked the probation officer if she could retrieve something from her bedroom, and the officer offered to retrieve the item for her. Cochran replied she no longer needed the item. Officers did not seek permission from Cochran to search her bedroom. Cochran did not object to the search while it was being conducted.

[¶6] Cochran also testified she was present for a previous probationary search conducted by the same probation officer. Cochran testified that during the prior search she remained in her room with the door closed and locked. The probation officer confirmed she did not see Cochran during the previous probation visit, and the door had been closed.

[¶7] The district court granted Cochran's motion and held Cochran's bedroom was not a common area of the residence and law enforcement did not have authority to search the bedroom as part of the probationary search. The court also concluded Cochran did not forfeit her ability to seek suppression of the evidence by failing to object at the time of the search. The State appeals from the order...

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