State v. Gauster, No. A07-0488.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation752 N.W.2d 496
Docket NumberNo. A07-0488.
Decision Date10 July 2008
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Steven Allen GAUSTER, Appellant.
752 N.W.2d 496
STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Steven Allen GAUSTER, Appellant.
No. A07-0488.
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
July 10, 2008.

[752 N.W.2d 498]

Mark D. Nyvold, St. Paul, MN, for Appellant.

Lori Swanson, Office of the Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, David J. Hauser, Otter Tail County Attorney, Ryan C. Cheshire, Assistant County Attorney, Fergus Falls, MN, for Respondent.

State Public Defender's Office, St. Paul, MN, for Interested Observer.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

ANDERSON, PAUL H., Justice.


Steven Allen Gauster, was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance after the police found methamphetamine in his motor vehicle during an inventory search. Gauster moved to suppress all evidence obtained during the search. After an omnibus hearing, the district court, finding the initial impoundment of Gauster's vehicle unlawful, held that the inventory search was unlawful

752 N.W.2d 499

under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, the court suppressed all evidence obtained from the search and dismissed the charges against Gauster for lack of evidence and probable cause. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed. We granted review. Because we conclude that the impoundment of Gauster's vehicle was unreasonable, making the concomitant inventory search of the vehicle a violation of Gauster's Fourth Amendment rights, we reverse the court of appeals and reinstate the district court's suppression order.

Most of the facts in this case are undisputed and come from the testimony presented at an omnibus hearing. On Friday, August 25, 2006, appellant Steven Allen Gauster, while en route to a friend's house, was driving in his motor vehicle on Otter Tail County Road 3. According to Gauster, he pulled over onto the shoulder of the road to wait for his girlfriend and his cousin, who he said were following him in a separate vehicle. Gauster said he had lost contact with them sometime earlier. During this time, Otter Tail County Deputy Sheriff Scott Wagner was patrolling the area near the intersection of County Road 3 and County Road 10. While patrolling, Wagner saw Gauster's vehicle on the shoulder of the road. Without turning on his emergency lights or siren, Wagner pulled up behind the vehicle to see if the driver needed assistance.

Wagner walked up to the driver's side of Gauster's vehicle and, according to Gauster, asked Gauster what he was doing and where he was going. Gauster identified himself and told Wagner that he owned the vehicle. According to Wagner, Gauster said he was waiting for some friends and did not know exactly where he was going. But Gauster testified that he responded by pointing to the tree line down the road and indicating the location of a friend's house. Wagner testified that during this conversation, Gauster was "pleasant, cooperative, [and] polite."

While talking to Gauster, Wagner noticed the smell of alcohol on Gauster's breath and saw a twelve-pack container of alcoholic beverages on the front seat, with one bottle missing. Wagner asked Gauster if he had been drinking. According to Gauster, he told Wagner that he had consumed one beer. Wagner then asked Gauster to move the container of alcohol.1 Gauster put the container in the trunk while Wagner stood right beside him. According to Gauster, he then got back into his vehicle and asked Wagner if he could wait for his friends a bit longer, to which Wagner said yes. Wagner then returned to his squad car and prepared to leave.

Wagner stated that as he was leaving, he ran Gauster's vehicle license plate on his squad car computer and learned that the registered owner of the vehicle had a suspended driver's license. Wagner then turned his squad car around, pulled behind Gauster's vehicle, and activated his emergency lights. Wagner again walked up to Gauster's driver's side window, told Gauster his license was suspended, and requested identification. Gauster testified that he told Wagner he was unaware of the suspension. Gauster then gave Wagner his Minnesota driver's license and again indicated that the vehicle belonged to him. According to Wagner, Gauster continued to be pleasant and polite.

Wagner also asked Gauster for proof of insurance on the vehicle. Gauster responded that he thought he had insurance and that his wife was supposed to get insurance on the vehicle, but that he did not have the insurance card with him.

752 N.W.2d 500

Gauster then provided Wagner with an insurance agency's business card.

At this point, there are some key discrepancies between Wagner's and Gauster's testimony about what occurred. According to Wagner, he went to his squad car and made several telephone calls to the telephone number listed on the business card provided by Gauster but was unable to get through to anyone. Wagner then returned to the driver's side window of Gauster's vehicle and notified Gauster that there was a problem with his insurance coverage. Wagner testified that at this point, he noticed several bottle caps on the passenger side floor of the vehicle and so he again asked Gauster if there were any open containers in the vehicle. Wagner stated that Gauster "adamantly" denied having any open containers. Wagner then walked around from the driver's side window to the passenger's side window and looked into the vehicle. Wagner testified that from this vantage point he could see an open container "shoved underneath the driver's seat, a glass bottle that appeared to be two-thirds full of beer." Wagner asked Gauster to hand him the bottle and, according to Wagner, Gauster cooperated and was polite.

Gauster, on the other hand, testified that a few minutes after Wagner went to his squad car with the insurance agency business card, Wagner approached Gauster from the passenger's side of the vehicle holding two pieces of paper in his hand. Gauster asked Wagner, "[w]hat are you giving me? * * * open bottle and no proof?" and Wagner responded yes.

Both Gauster and Wagner testified that at this point, Wagner stated that he was going to tow Gauster's vehicle. Specifically, Wagner testified that he told Gauster he was going to tow the vehicle because of Gauster's suspended driving status and because Gauster did not have proof of insurance. Gauster testified that Wagner said Gauster had 10 days to show proof of insurance but that he was still going to tow Gauster's vehicle. Wagner testified that he was planning to give Gauster "a ride to wherever he wanted to go" and that Gauster told him he wanted to go somewhere a "couple" of miles up the road. Gauster then stepped out of the vehicle and into Wagner's squad car because Wagner said he needed to conduct an inventory search of the vehicle before it was towed. Wagner specifically informed Gauster that he was not under arrest.

Both Wagner and Gauster testified that at some point after Wagner notified Gauster that he was going to have Gauster's vehicle towed and before Wagner began searching the vehicle. Gauster asked Wagner if he could have someone pick up the vehicle. Wagner testified that Gauster requested to have someone pickup the vehicle so that Gauster could avoid incurring any towing charges. According to Wagner, he told Gauster that because Wagner believed the vehicle was uninsured, he would not allow someone else to drive the vehicle away. Gauster testified that he then asked Wagner if Gauster could get the vehicle towed himself and that Wagner said Gauster could not. Wagner contradicted this statement, testifying that Gauster never suggested that he wanted to call someone to tow the vehicle.

According to Wagner, he then conducted an inventory search of Gauster's vehicle. In the back seat, Wagner found open containers with small amounts of alcohol in them. According to Wagner, he also found a pipe under the driver's seat, which he believed to be used to smoke methamphetamine. When searching the trunk, Wagner found a white plastic bag, which contained a white granular substance wrapped in clear cellophane. This substance was later determined to be methamphetamine.

752 N.W.2d 501

According to Gauster, Wagner began the inventory search in the front passenger seat and then in the back seat, where Wagner found two empty bottles. Wagner then searched the trunk and found a bag, in which he found a package. Wagner then told Gauster he would be placed under arrest for possession of the package, which Wagner thought was methamphetamine. According to Gauster, it was at this point that Wagner looked under the driver's seat of Gauster's vehicle and found the pipe. Gauster testified that Wagner then returned to the trunk of the vehicle and pulled another package out of a bag, which Wagner thought also contained methamphetamine. Wagner then arrested Gauster. Gauster testified that the entire incident up until he was taken to jail lasted approximately one half hour.

On August 28, 2006, the Otter Tail County Attorney charged Gauster with two counts of controlled substance crime in the first degree, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 152.021, subds. 1(1) and 2(1) (2006), for possession of methamphetamine. On December 8, Gauster moved the district court to, among other things, suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the inventory search of his vehicle. The district court held an omnibus hearing to determine whether suppression of the evidence obtained during the inventory search was appropriate. After the hearing, the district court granted Gauster's suppression motion, ordering that all evidence obtained as a result of the inventory search be suppressed. The court concluded that the impoundment of Gauster's vehicle was unnecessary and thus, the concomitant inventory search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court then dismissed the State's case against Gauster due to lack of evidence and probable cause to support the charges.

The State filed a motion requesting that the district...

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278 practice notes
  • Ries v. State, A16-0220
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 5, 2018
    ...the relationship of "community caretaking functions" to searches of vehicles). We call these "inventory searches." See State v. Gauster , 752 N.W.2d 496, 502 (Minn. 2008) (discussing Opperman ). The Supreme Court has never applied a "community-caretaker" exception outside of a vehicle searc......
  • State v. Eichers, No. A13–0121.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • December 2, 2013
    ...impounded vehicle. But police are free to perform highly invasive warrantless searches of impounded automobiles. See State v. Gauster, 752 N.W.2d 496, 502 (Minn.2008) (“[I]nventory searches are now a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement.” (quotation omitted)); see also South Da......
  • State v. Thompson, A18-0545
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • May 13, 2019
    ...arrested. See, e.g. , Fellers v. United States , 540 U.S. 519, 521, 124 S. Ct. 1019, 1021, 157 L.Ed.2d 1016 (2004) ; State v. Gauster , 752 N.W.2d 496, 501 (Minn. 2008) ; State v. Ihle , 640 N.W.2d 910, 913 (Minn. 2002). In addition, Minnesota caselaw recognizes that a "de facto arrest" may......
  • State v. Hill, No. A13–1803.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 9, 2015
    ...court. Roby v. State, 547 N.W.2d 354, 357 (Minn.1996). This is especially true when the record is not fully developed. State v. Gauster, 752 N.W.2d 496, 508 (Minn.2008) ; Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn.1988). Because Hill failed to raise the weight-gain issue in the district cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
277 cases
  • Ries v. State, A16-0220
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 5, 2018
    ...the relationship of "community caretaking functions" to searches of vehicles). We call these "inventory searches." See State v. Gauster , 752 N.W.2d 496, 502 (Minn. 2008) (discussing Opperman ). The Supreme Court has never applied a "community-caretaker" exception outside of a vehicle searc......
  • State v. Eichers, No. A13–0121.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • December 2, 2013
    ...impounded vehicle. But police are free to perform highly invasive warrantless searches of impounded automobiles. See State v. Gauster, 752 N.W.2d 496, 502 (Minn.2008) (“[I]nventory searches are now a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement.” (quotation omitted)); see also South Da......
  • State v. Thompson, A18-0545
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • May 13, 2019
    ...arrested. See, e.g. , Fellers v. United States , 540 U.S. 519, 521, 124 S. Ct. 1019, 1021, 157 L.Ed.2d 1016 (2004) ; State v. Gauster , 752 N.W.2d 496, 501 (Minn. 2008) ; State v. Ihle , 640 N.W.2d 910, 913 (Minn. 2002). In addition, Minnesota caselaw recognizes that a "de facto arrest" may......
  • State v. Hill, No. A13–1803.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 9, 2015
    ...court. Roby v. State, 547 N.W.2d 354, 357 (Minn.1996). This is especially true when the record is not fully developed. State v. Gauster, 752 N.W.2d 496, 508 (Minn.2008) ; Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn.1988). Because Hill failed to raise the weight-gain issue in the district cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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