State v. Edstrom

Decision Date15 August 2018
Docket NumberA16-1382
Citation916 N.W.2d 512
Parties STATE of Minnesota, Appellant, v. Cortney John EDSTROM, Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jonathan P. Schmidt, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Stan Keillor, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

Travis J. Smith, Murray County Attorney, Slayton, Minnesota; and Kelsey Kelley, Assistant Anoka County Attorney, Anoka, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

GILDEA, Chief Justice.


The question presented in this case is whether a warrantless narcotics-dog sniff in the hallway outside respondent's apartment violated respondent's right to be free from unreasonable searches under the United States or Minnesota Constitution. The district court concluded that the dog sniff did not violate respondent's right under either constitution. The court of appeals agreed with the district court that the dog sniff did not occur within the curtilage of respondent's apartment, but the court of appeals nevertheless reversed respondent's convictions, holding that the dog sniff violated respondent's rights under both the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution. Because we conclude that the police did not intrude upon the curtilage of respondent's apartment or violate respondent's reasonable expectation of privacy, we hold that the narcotics-dog sniff did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment. We further hold that because the police were lawfully present in the hallway and had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity, the narcotics-dog sniff did not violate Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part and remand to the court of appeals.


In October 2015, a confidential informant told police that respondent Cortney John Edstrom was selling methamphetamine out of a Brooklyn Park apartment building. The informant also said that Edstrom lived on the third floor of the building, drove a black Cadillac sedan, and that the informant had seen Edstrom with a pistol in the past 3 months. Police showed the informant a photo of Edstrom, and the informant confirmed that the man in the photo was the man selling methamphetamine.

Police corroborated the informant's tip. Specifically, using vehicle registration records, police confirmed that Edstrom owned a black Cadillac, and they determined the license plate number that belonged to that Cadillac. Police later saw Edstrom's black Cadillac with the matching license plate number parked in the parking lot of the apartment building the informant described. When police reviewed the resident directory for that building, they learned that a person Edstrom had listed as an emergency contact lived in apartment 305.

Based on the information described above, police conducted a warrantless, narcotics-dog sniff at the apartment building. After entering the building, officers led a narcotics-sniffing dog to the third-floor hallway. There, the dog sniffed other doors in the hallway on the way to apartment 305 but did not alert. When the dog sniffed the door seam of apartment 305, the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics.1

Following the dog sniff, police applied for and received a search warrant for apartment 305. The affidavit in support of the warrant included a report on the dog sniff and the fact that the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics when it sniffed the door seam of the apartment.

When the police executed the search warrant, Edstrom was in the apartment. Police found several firearms, ammunition, scales with methamphetamine residue, marijuana, and approximately 226 grams of methamphetamine. They also found many personal items that belonged to Edstrom.2

Based on the evidence discovered in the search of apartment 305, the State of Minnesota charged Edstrom with first-degree sale of methamphetamine, Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(1) (2014) ; first-degree possession of methamphetamine, Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2(a)(1) (2014) ; possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(2) (2014) ; and fifth-degree possession of methamphetamine, Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(a)(1) (2014).

Edstrom filed a motion to suppress the items found during the execution of the search warrant. Edstrom argued that the narcotics-dog sniff violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and that without the dog sniff, the search warrant was not supported by probable cause. At the suppression hearing, in addition to offering testimony about the circumstances of the dog sniff, the State offered testimony about the Knox Box that the police used to enter the apartment building.

This testimony established that a Knox Box is a locked key box that an apartment building owner in Brooklyn Park may choose to have installed on the outside of a building.3 Anyone with a key to open the Knox Box can access a set of keys for a building. Building owners typically install a Knox Box to facilitate law enforcement access in cases of medical emergencies, criminal complaints, tenant disputes, foot patrols to become familiar with the layout of the building, and dog sniffs. Building owners are generally aware that police occasionally enter their buildings via these boxes.

The district court denied Edstrom's motion to suppress. The court concluded that Edstrom did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area of the hallway outside his apartment. The court also concluded that because the hallway outside Edstrom's apartment was a common area, it was not in the curtilage of the apartment.

The case then proceeded to trial, and the jury found Edstrom guilty of first-degree and fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.4 The district court convicted Edstrom of these three offenses and sentenced him to 134 months in prison.

Edstrom appealed and the court of appeals reversed his convictions. State v. Edstrom , 901 N.W.2d 455, 458 (Minn. App. 2017). The court of appeals first concluded that because the area outside Edstrom's apartment door was not curtilage, no search occurred under a property-rights analysis of the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 460–61. But, relying on Justice Kagan's concurrence in Florida v. Jardines , 569 U.S. 1, 12–15, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 185 L.Ed.2d 495 (2013), the court of appeals concluded that the narcotics-dog sniff was a search under the Fourth Amendment because it violated Edstrom's reasonable expectations of privacy. Edstrom , 901 N.W.2d at 462–63.

The court of appeals further concluded that under the Minnesota Constitution, a search of Edstrom's home occurred, and that absent exigent circumstances or consent, a warrantless search of a private residence was unreasonable. Edstrom , 901 N.W.2d at 464. The court acknowledged that before Jardines , we had held that under the Minnesota Constitution, " ‘police [only] need[ ] reasonable, articulable suspicion to use [a] narcotics-detection dog in the common hallway outside [an] apartment.’ " Id. (quoting State v. Davis , 732 N.W.2d 173, 175 (Minn. 2007) ). But, because Edstrom's apartment building was secured, the court of appeals concluded that Davis "d[id] not guide [its] decision." Id. The court then went on to hold that the district court should have suppressed evidence obtained as a result of the dog's positive alert because police did not have a warrant for the dog sniff and no exception to the warrant requirement applied. Id. at 465. And "because the dog's positive alert was essential to probable cause for the warrant," the court further held that the district court erred by denying Edstrom's motion to suppress. Id.

We granted the State's petition for review.


On appeal, the State argues that the district court properly denied Edstrom's motion to suppress evidence obtained while executing the search warrant for his apartment. When considering the denial of a pretrial motion to suppress, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. State v. Molnau , 904 N.W.2d 449, 451 (Minn. 2017). The State bears the burden of establishing that the challenged evidence was obtained in accordance with the constitution. State ex rel. Rasmussen v. Tahash , 272 Minn. 539, 141 N.W.2d 3, 13–14 (1965). A defendant, however, bears the threshold burden of proving that he or she has a right protected by the constitution. State v. Gail , 713 N.W.2d 851, 859–60 (Minn. 2006) (rejecting the defendant's claim that cell phone records should have been suppressed because he did "not me[e]t his burden of showing he had a subjective expectation of privacy in the cell phone records").

Edstrom challenges the warrantless narcotics-dog sniff under both the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. The Minnesota Constitution cannot provide less protection than the United States Constitution, but it can provide greater protection. See Kahn v. Griffin , 701 N.W.2d 815, 824 (Minn. 2005). As a result, we first assess Edstrom's rights under the United States Constitution, and then turn to the Minnesota Constitution.


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV. A search conducted without a warrant or under a recognized exception to the warrant requirement is generally unreasonable. Katz v. United States , 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) ; see Birchfield v. North Dakota , 579 U.S. ––––, ––––, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 2173, 195 L.Ed.2d 560 (2016). The parties disagree whether a search occurred when officers performed a narcotics-dog...

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