State v. Morin, A06-602.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Citation736 N.W.2d 691
Docket NumberNo. A06-602.,No. A06-604.,No. A06-606.,No. A06-605.,A06-602.,A06-604.,A06-605.,A06-606.
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Samuel Patrick MORIN, Appellant (A06-602), Jason David Porteous, Appellant (A06-604), James Luc Robert Drummond, Appellant (A06-605), Jessica Joy Johnson, Appellant (A06-606).
Decision Date26 June 2007
736 N.W.2d 691
STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Samuel Patrick MORIN, Appellant (A06-602),
Jason David Porteous, Appellant (A06-604),
James Luc Robert Drummond, Appellant (A06-605),
Jessica Joy Johnson, Appellant (A06-606).
No. A06-602.
No. A06-604.
No. A06-605.
No. A06-606.
Court of Appeals of Minnesota.
June 26, 2007.

[736 N.W.2d 693]

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, and Alan R. Felix, Bemidji City Attorney, Jeanine R. Brand, Assistant City Attorney, Bemidji, MN, for respondent.

Matthew E. Johnson, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Minneapolis, MN, for appellants.

Considered and decided by STONEBURNER, Presiding Judge; DIETZEN, Judge; and WORKE, Judge.

OPINION

DIETZEN, Judge.


In this consolidated appeal, four appellants challenge their convictions of consumption of alcohol by a minor, and one appellant challenges an additional conviction of possession of marijuana, arguing that the district court erred in denying their joint motion to suppress. Additionally, one appellant challenges a conviction of obstruction of legal process on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction. Because the district court properly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion

736 N.W.2d 694

to suppress, we affirm the convictions of consumption of alcohol and possession of marijuana. But the evidence is not sufficient to support the conviction of obstruction of legal process, and, therefore, we reverse that conviction.

FACTS

Appellants are students at Bemidji State University. The three male appellants— Samuel Morin, Jason Porteous, and James Drummond—are renters of a house located off campus. Appellant Jessica Johnson lives on the University campus, dated appellant Porteous at the time of the incident, and was sometimes a guest at the house.

On an evening in September 2005, appellants had a party. At about 2:00 in the morning, Bemidji police responded to a report of a fight in the vicinity of appellants' house. Upon arriving, the officer observed people gathered in front of appellants' house and across the street. The police officer activated his squad car lights, got out of his car, and made eye contact with Johnson, who acted "startled." Johnson then ran away from the officer in the direction of the back of the house. The officer, uncertain of Johnson's involvement in any altercation, chased Johnson, yelling "stop" and "police" several times. When the officer approached the back entrance of the house, he observed the door swinging shut and Johnson fleeing up the stairs located just inside the doorway.

The officer opened the back door and pursued Johnson up the stairs, and when he knocked on a bedroom door he encountered Drummond and a female companion. The officer asked the female if she was the person he chased up the stairs, but she denied any involvement. Drummond argued with the officer regarding his right to be in the residence, refused to answer questions or produce identification, and attempted to shut the door in the officer's face. Drummond was then arrested and searched; drug paraphernalia and a small amount of marijuana were recovered. Drummond was later charged with possession of marijuana and obstructing legal process.

The officer proceeded to the other bedroom and located Johnson and Porteous. Johnson first denied being the individual the officer pursued but later admitted, "I don't know why I ran." Johnson, Porteous, and Drummond were escorted downstairs where Morin was located, and all were tested for consumption of alcohol. Each was later charged with consumption of alcohol by a minor. Johnson was also charged with obstructing legal process.

Appellants moved to suppress the evidence obtained by the police as the result of a warrantless search of their residence. Following a hearing, the district court denied the motion. The parties stipulated to a Lothenbach proceeding, and the district court found appellants guilty of the crimes charged. The district court imposed ten-day sentences for each appellant, which were stayed pending appeal. This appeal follows.

ISSUES

1. Did the district court err by denying appellants' motion to suppress the evidence?

2. Was there sufficient evidence to convict Johnson of obstruction of legal process under Minn.Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(2) (2004)?

ANALYSIS
I.

Appellants argue that the district court erred in denying their joint motion

736 N.W.2d 695

to suppress the evidence.1 On appeal from a ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, this court independently reviews the facts and determines, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in suppressing— or not suppressing—the evidence. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn.1999).

The United States and Minnesota Constitutions protect persons against unreasonable searches and seizures in their "persons, houses, papers, and effects." U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, 10. Thus, as a general rule, a warrant is required before law enforcement may enter a person's home. State v. Lohnes, 344 N.W.2d 605, 610 (Minn.1984). Accordingly, a warrantless search of a person's home is presumptively unreasonable. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1380, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980); State v. Lemieux, 726 N.W.2d 783, 787 (Minn.2007). Absent consent, the presumption of unreasonableness can be rebutted only if the warrantless search is supported by probable cause and "exigent circumstances." Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 474-75, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 2042, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971); In re Welfare of D.A.G., 484 N.W.2d 787, 789 (Minn. 1992). Exigent circumstances exist in cases of hot pursuit, danger to human life, imminent destruction of evidence, and possible flight of the suspect. Lohnes, 344 N.W.2d at 610. If warrantless entry is made without probable cause and exigent circumstances, its fruit must be suppressed. State v. Paul, 548 N.W.2d 260, 264 (Minn.1996).

Police in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect do not need a warrant before entering a dwelling that the fleeing suspect has entered. State v. Koziol, 338 N.W.2d 47, 48 (Minn.1983). Or, to put it differently, a person may not defeat a warrantless arrest that has been set in motion in public by entering into a dwelling. Id. "Hot pursuit" means some sort of a chase, but "it need not be an extended hue and cry in and about the public streets." United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 43, 96 S.Ct. 2406, 2410, 49 L.Ed.2d 300 (1976) (quotation omitted).

Appellants do not challenge the district court's finding that the officer had probable cause to arrest Johnson because she was fleeing a police officer. But appellants do argue that the alleged offense was not sufficiently serious to satisfy the exigent-circumstances exception to a warrantless search. Appellants rely heavily on the case of Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984). In Welsh, the United States Supreme Court concluded that a nighttime entry into a home to arrest an individual for driving under the influence of alcohol was prohibited under the Fourth Amendment. The Welsh Court concluded that before law enforcement may invade the sanctity of the home it must demonstrate exigent circumstances and that "an important factor to be considered when determining whether any exigency exists is the gravity of the underlying offense for which the arrest is being made." 466 U.S. at 753, 104 S.Ct. at 2099. In Welsh, the State of...

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