State v. Paul, C2-94-2469

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation548 N.W.2d 260
Docket NumberNo. C2-94-2469,C2-94-2469
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Peter Dean PAUL, Appellant.
Decision Date23 May 1996

Syllabus by the Court

A police officer in hot pursuit of a person suspected of the serious offense of driving under the influence of alcohol may make a warrantless entry into the suspect's home in order to effectuate an arrest.

Richard L. Swanson, Chaska, for appellant.

Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Atty. Gen., St. Paul, Scott Joint Prosecution Ass'n, Lisa A. Skoog, Patrick Ciliberto, Shakopee, for respondent.

Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc.


ANDERSON, Justice.

Appellant Peter Dean Paul was arrested at his home in Jordan, Minnesota, and charged with the misdemeanor offense of driving under the influence of alcohol. At the omnibus hearing, Paul pleaded not guilty to the charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and moved to suppress all evidence obtained against him on the grounds that the police officer's warrantless entry into his home to make the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the motion, ruling that the officer's warrantless entry into Paul's home was justified under the doctrine of hot pursuit and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Paul waived his right to a jury trial, entered a conditional guilty plea, and appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed the conviction. We affirm.

At approximately 6:00 p.m. on February 22, 1994, in Jordan, Minnesota, Joseph A. Gunderson, a uniformed and on-duty police officer with the Jordan Police Department, was in an auto parts store. While in the store, Officer Gunderson was approached by appellant, Peter Dean Paul, who wrapped his arm around Gunderson's shoulder and said, "Hi, how is it going?" Gunderson did not know Paul, but replied, "Fine, how are you doing?" Gunderson asked Paul if he knew him, and Paul replied, "I don't think so." Gunderson and Paul then talked for several minutes about Paul's red pickup truck. During this conversation, Gunderson noticed a strong smell of alcohol and observed that Paul slurred his speech, had watery eyes and a flushed face, and had some difficulty standing. Gunderson later testified that he concluded Paul was intoxicated and speculated that Paul had walked over from a bar located approximately 40 feet from the auto parts store. Gunderson did not ask Paul if he was going to drive that evening.

After completing his business at the auto parts store, Officer Gunderson left the store and walked to a gas station located next door. After spending four to five minutes at the gas station, Gunderson went to his squad car. As he was about to enter his squad car, Gunderson saw Paul walk out of the auto parts store and climb into a red pickup truck, which was parked approximately 15 to 20 feet away from Gunderson's squad car. Gunderson watched Paul start the truck and drive out of the parking lot and observed him roll through a stop sign at the exit of the parking lot. Gunderson testified that he concluded Paul should not be driving and decided to follow him to observe his driving behavior.

Because there were other cars leaving the parking lot, Officer Gunderson was unable to immediately follow Paul. Gunderson caught up to Paul's truck at the intersection of Highway 169 and Creek Lane, where he observed Paul roll through the stop sign, turn onto Highway 169, and "fishtail" as he entered the highway. Because Gunderson did not feel "comfortable" with Paul's driving on the highway, he called in Paul's license plate number and turned on his red squad car lights. Paul did not stop when the red squad car lights were activated, but continued to drive on the highway at a "fast" speed. After driving for a short distance on Highway 169, Paul turned onto Syndicate Street, the street on which he lives. Gunderson followed Paul for approximately two blocks on Syndicate with his red squad car lights on, when Paul drove into the driveway of a home at 500 Syndicate Street.

Officer Gunderson followed Paul into the driveway of the home at 500 Syndicate Street and parked his squad car directly behind Paul's truck so that Paul could not back up. As Paul was getting out of his truck, Gunderson commanded him to stop and to get back into his truck. Paul did not comply with Gunderson's command. Gunderson again ordered Paul to get back into his truck. Paul shut the door of his truck and turned away from Gunderson, who again commanded him to stop. As Gunderson left the side of his squad car and began to run towards Paul, Paul "hastily" went up to the side door to his garage. Gunderson chased Paul towards the garage, but was unable to continue his pursuit and follow Paul into the garage because, after entering the garage, Paul locked the side door behind him.

After first attempting to open the locked door, Officer Gunderson knocked on the door and shouted, "Sir, come on out, answer the door, come out and talk to me." Receiving no response, Gunderson then went to the front of the house and knocked on the front door. A woman, later identified as Paul's wife, answered the door. Gunderson asked her to get her "husband" so that he could talk to him. She replied that he was not at home. Gunderson then asked Paul's wife to look for Paul in the house, which she claimed to do. While she searched for Paul, Gunderson heard persons speaking in the house. Within moments, Paul's wife returned and told Gunderson that Paul did not appear to be home. Gunderson replied that if she was lying to conceal the presence of her husband, she could be charged with a crime. Gunderson then asked her if he could look about the residence for Paul and she replied, "Go right ahead."

Officer Gunderson entered the house and, accompanied by Paul's wife, looked for Paul in the kitchen and garage. Unable to locate Paul, Gunderson again questioned Paul's wife. When he told her that he had overheard her talking to someone in the kitchen area, she stated that she was "talking to herself" and began to shout at Gunderson. At that point, Paul emerged from the basement. Gunderson then arrested Paul for driving under the influence of alcohol pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 169.121. Paul was then taken to the police station where he was given a blood-alcohol level test, which disclosed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.22. Paul also was given but was unable to complete any of the field sobriety tests. Gunderson issued Paul a citation for the misdemeanor offense of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Paul's wife presented a different version of the events. She testified that after hearing something slam, she went to a window, saw Paul's truck in the driveway, and noticed Officer Gunderson's squad car pulling to a stop behind it. She testified that the squad car lights were not flashing. She went to the front door, opened it, looked out and saw Gunderson trying to open the garage door. When Gunderson came to the front door and asked her to look for Paul, she shut the front door, leaving Gunderson standing outside. She looked throughout the house, calling Paul's name, and when she returned to the front of the house, she found Gunderson standing in the living room.

At the omnibus hearing, Paul pleaded not guilty and moved to exclude all evidence obtained from him after Officer Gunderson's warrantless entry into his home. The district court denied Paul's motion, concluding that Paul's constitutional rights were not violated by Gunderson's warrantless entry of his home because Gunderson's hot pursuit of Paul fell under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. Paul then waived his right to a jury trial, entered a conditional guilty plea pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854, 857 (Minn.1980), and appealed the denial of this motion to suppress evidence on constitutional grounds to the court of appeals, which affirmed.

On appeal to this court, Paul argues that Gunderson did not have probable cause to arrest him, that Gunderson was neither in hot pursuit nor had he set an arrest in motion, and that exigent circumstances do not justify a warrantless entry into a home to arrest for an offense of lesser magnitude than a felony. Accordingly, Paul asks that we reverse the court of appeals and hold that the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless entry and arrest by Gunderson must be excluded.


Paul seeks to suppress all evidence obtained against him on the grounds that Officer Gunderson's warrantless entry into his home violated the Fourth Amendment. This court will only reverse a pretrial decision of the district court to suppress evidence if the state demonstrates clearly and unequivocally that the district court has erred in its judgment and that, unless reversed, the error will have a critical impact on the outcome of the trial. State v. Webber, 262 N.W.2d 157, 159 (Minn.1977). When the facts are not in dispute and the district court's decision is a question of law, this court may independently review the facts and determine as a matter of law whether the evidence need be suppressed. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn.1992).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Minnesota Constitution proscribe unreasonable searches by the government of "persons, houses, papers and effects." U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. Absent exigent circumstances, a warrantless entry of a person's house to make an arrest is per se unreasonable. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1382, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980); State v. Lohnes, 344 N.W.2d 605, 610 (Minn.1984). To justify a warrantless entry of a person's home in order to make an arrest, the state must show either consent 1 or probable cause and exigent circumstances. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d at 222. The United States Supreme Court has determined that exigent circumstances exist in cases of hot pursuit, danger to human life, imminent...

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