State v. Olson, C3-88-687

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation436 N.W.2d 92
Docket NumberNo. C3-88-687,C3-88-687
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Robert Darren OLSON, Appellant.
Decision Date24 February 1989

Page 92

436 N.W.2d 92
STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
Robert Darren OLSON, Appellant.
No. C3-88-687.
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
Feb. 24, 1989.
Rehearing Denied March 28, 1989.

Page 93

Syllabus by the Court

Warrantless entry of defendant's dwelling, in absence of exigent circumstances, requires suppression of defendant's statement and, hence, a new trial.

Glenn P. Bruder, Bruce C. Douglas, Edina, for appellant.

Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Atty. Gen., St. Paul, and Tom Johnson, Hennepin County Atty., Anne F. Peek, Asst. County Atty., Minneapolis, for respondent.

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

SIMONETT, Justice.

Defendant Robert Olson appeals his conviction for first degree murder, three counts of armed robbery, and three counts of second degree assault. He claims, among other things, that his arrest was illegal, lacking probable cause and accomplished by a warrantless entry of the place where he was staying. We conclude Robert Olson's constitutional rights were violated by the warrantless entry requiring suppression of tainted evidence, and reverse for a new trial.

On Saturday morning, July 18, 1987, shortly before 6 a.m., a lone gunman robbed an Amoco station in Minneapolis, shooting to death the station manager. The police were quickly alerted and, from the description of the robbery, suspected Joseph Ecker. Two officers drove to Ecker's home, arriving at about the same time as a brown Oldsmobile pulled up. The Oldsmobile tried to escape, spun out of control, and came to a stop. Two white males got out of the car and fled on foot. In short order one of the two men, who proved to be Joseph Ecker and who was identified as the robber-gunman, was captured inside his home. The other man, unidentified but described as tall, thin, a white male in his early twenties with sandy brown hair, escaped. It was now about 6:15 a.m.

Inside the abandoned Oldsmobile police found a sack of money and the weapon soon thereafter identified as the murder weapon. Also in the car was a title certificate showing the Oldsmobile's owner to be Keith Jacobson. The name Rob Olson appeared on the certificate as a secured party but with the name crossed out; the bottom half of the certificate, used to transfer title, was missing. There was also a letter in the car, dated May 11, 1987, from an insurance company, addressed to Roger R. Olson, 3151 Johnson Street. A second search of the car pursuant to a search warrant revealed a videotape rental receipt dated July 16, 1987 (2 days earlier), issued to Rob Olson. The police verified that a Robert Olson lived at 3151 Johnson Street. The police talked to Ecker and a woman who had been in the house when Ecker was arrested. Neither identified Robert Olson as having been in the getaway Oldsmobile or connected with the robbery. The woman gave the names of persons who had been with Ecker the night before; Olson's name was not among them. The police were unable to locate Keith Jacobson.

The next day was Sunday, July 19. In the morning a woman called the police and said a man by the name of Rob was the driver of the getaway car and was planning to leave town by bus. The caller gave her

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name as Dianna Murphy. About noon the woman called again, said she was Dianna Murphy, and gave her address and phone number. She said that a woman named Maria lived on Garfield Northeast and gave Maria's phone number. Maria, she said, had told her that a man named Rob had admitted to Maria and to two other women, Louanne and Julie, that he was the driver in the Amoco robbery. The caller said Louanne was Julie's mother and the two women lived at 2406 Fillmore Northeast.

The detective-in-charge who took the second telephone call did not attempt to verify the identity of the caller. If he had, he would have learned no one by the name of Dianna Murphy lived at the address and phone number given. Neither was Maria contacted. The detective did, however, send police officers to 2406 Fillmore to check out Louanne and Julie. The Fillmore address proved to be a duplex. Louanne Bergstrom and her daughter Julie resided in the upper unit but were not home. Louanne's mother (Julie's grandmother) lived in the lower unit. She confirmed that a Rob Olson had been staying upstairs and promised to call the police when Olson returned. The grandmother was not aware of Olson's involvement in any robbery. A pickup order was then issued for Olson's arrest.

About 2:45 p.m., the grandmother called police and said Olson had returned. The detective then instructed police officers to surround the house. No effort was made to obtain an arrest warrant. The detective later explained in court that he had never attempted to get an arrest warrant on a weekend during his 20 years on the force. After the house was surrounded, the detective phoned Julie and told her Rob should come out of the house. The detective heard a male voice say "tell them I left." Julie then said that Rob had left, whereupon the detective ordered the police to enter the house. They did so with drawn weapons and without seeking permission. Defendant Olson, age 19, was found hiding in a closet.

After his arrest, defendant admitted to the police that he had driven Joseph Ecker from Ecker's house to an apartment building on Second Avenue Southeast near the Amoco station on University Avenue. Olson said Ecker had asked for a ride to pick up a girlfriend; that on the way he stopped at the Amoco station to buy cigarettes and pop; and that he then parked by the apartment building about a block from the station. He said Ecker was gone about 10 minutes and returned with a gun and a bag and ordered Olson to drive him home. Olson said he fled from the police at the Ecker house because he was scared of Ecker. Subsequent investigation disclosed that Olson had bought the Oldsmobile from Keith Jacobson but title had not yet been transferred. Defendant's defense at trial was that he had been duped into driving Ecker to the scene of the robbery.

The two main issues on appeal concern the legality of defendant's arrest. Was there probable cause? Did circumstances justify a warrantless, nonconsensual entry of the duplex? Defendant argues both these questions must be answered no, and, therefore, evidence obtained from his arrest--most importantly, his statement to the police--should have been suppressed.


When police have arrested a suspect without a warrant, the test is whether the officers in the particular circumstances, conditioned by their own observations and information and guided by the whole of their police experience, reasonably could have believed that a crime had been committed by the person to be arrested. State v. Merrill, 274 N.W.2d 99, 108 (Minn.1978). A determination of whether the police had probable cause to arrest is a determination of constitutional rights, and this court makes an independent review of the facts to determine the reasonableness of the police officer's actions. See Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 34, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 1625, 10 L.Ed.2d 726 (1963).

At the time of defendant's arrest the police knew that a robbery-homicide had occurred. They had arrested one suspect, Joseph Ecker, and had a description of the unknown driver. In the getaway car was a

Page 95

certificate of title listing Keith Jacobson as the car's owner. The name Rob Olson was on the title certificate but as a secured party and the name was crossed out. A receipt for a videotape rental, dated 2 days earlier, was also in the car, issued to Robert Olson.

The trial court found that this physical evidence alone, without the informant's tip, was sufficient to establish probable cause. We have our doubts. As defendant points out, this evidence only suggested Olson might have had some property or lien interest in the getaway car and that he may have ridden in the car 2 days before the robbery. Keith Jacobson would seem to have been a more likely suspect. Significantly, although the police had this physical evidence on Saturday, they did not issue a pick-up order for Olson until Sunday, after receiving the telephone tip from "Dianna Murphy."

Consequently, the question becomes whether the tip was reliable and if it together with the physical evidence establishes probable cause. In evaluating an informant's tip, the court looks at the commonsense totality of the circumstances, including the informant's veracity, reliability, and basis of knowledge. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2332, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983). In this case, the police knew nothing about the informant's identity or reliability. If the police had called the number "Dianna Murphy" gave them or checked her name in the telephone directory, they would have found there was no such person. The caller did not claim any personal knowledge of the information related, simply passing on what she had apparently been told by Maria, another unidentified source. On the other hand, the police did verify that at least part of the information...

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