State v. Schmidt

Decision Date15 September 2016
Docket Number20150278.,Nos. 20150277,s. 20150277
Citation885 N.W.2d 65
Parties STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Deven James SCHMIDT, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Tessa M. Vaagen, Assistant State's Attorney, Burleigh County State's Attorney, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Danny L. Herbel, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

McEVERS, Justice.

[¶ 1] In consolidated appeals, Deven Schmidt appeals from district court orders deferring imposition of sentence after he conditionally pled guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance. Schmidt argues the district court erred in denying his motions to suppress evidence he claims was obtained in violation of his rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. We affirm, concluding the district court properly denied Schmidt's motion to suppress evidence.


[¶ 2] In March 2014, a law officer served a misdemeanor bench warrant on Devin Lavallie, Deven Schmidt's roommate. Schmidt answered the door and informed the officer that Lavallie was sleeping inside the residence. The officer followed Schmidt inside the residence to Lavallie's bedroom, while another officer remained at the door. Schmidt went into his bedroom and closed the door while the officer executed the bench warrant on Lavallie. During Lavallie's arrest, the officer observed drug paraphernalia in plain view in Lavallie's bedroom. The officer placed Lavallie under arrest, moved him into the living room, and handcuffed him. The officer testified he returned to Schmidt's bedroom, entered the room, handcuffed Schmidt, and took him to the living room for the safety of those present. The officer informed Schmidt he was being detained until officers could figure out what was going on. The officer then observed drug paraphernalia in the living room and contacted the Task Force for assistance.

[¶ 3] The officer requested and obtained written and verbal consent from Schmidt and Lavallie to search the residence. After obtaining written consent to search the residence, the officer found paraphernalia in Schmidt's bedroom.

[¶ 4] The State charged Schmidt with possession of drug paraphernalia. Schmidt moved to suppress evidence in connection with the charge, alleging the officer did not have authority or consent to enter the residence to execute the bench warrant. The district court suppressed evidence obtained from the search, and the State appealed.

[¶ 5] During the pendency of the appeal, the State charged Schmidt with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance. This Court reversed the district court's suppression order in State v. Schmidt, 2015 ND 134, ¶ 11, 864 N.W.2d 265 (“Schmidt I ”), concluding the officer, having a reasonable belief that Lavallie was inside, had legal authority under the misdemeanor bench warrant to enter the residence to execute the warrant, and we remanded for additional proceedings.

[¶ 6] On remand, Schmidt moved to suppress evidence in connection with both charges. Schmidt argued the officer violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures by opening his bedroom door, removing him, and moving him to the livingroom. Schmidt also argued his consent to search the residence was coerced. The district court denied Schmidt's motion to suppress. Schmidt entered conditional guilty pleas to both charges, reserving his right to appeal the district court's denial of his motions to suppress the evidence seized. The district court entered an order deferring imposition of sentence on each charge. Schmidt appealed from both orders deferring imposition of sentence.


[¶ 7] In Schmidt I, we outlined our standard for reviewing a district court's determination on a motion to suppress evidence:

When reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, this Court defers to a trial court's findings of fact, and conflicts in testimony are resolved in favor of affirmance because we recognize the trial court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses and weigh evidence. State v. Gasal, 2015 ND 43, ¶ 6, 859 N.W.2d 914. “A district court's findings of fact on a motion to suppress will not be reversed if there is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the court's findings, and the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.” State v. DeCoteau, 1999 ND 77, ¶ 6, 592 N.W.2d 579. “Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law.” State v. Graf, 2006 ND 196, ¶ 7, 721 N.W.2d 381.

2015 ND 134, ¶ 5, 864 N.W.2d 265.

[¶ 8] “The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the North Dakota Constitution protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.” State v. Gagnon, 2012 ND 198, ¶ 8, 821 N.W.2d 373. A person alleging a Fourth Amendment violation has an initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of an illegal search or seizure. State v. Lanctot, 1998 ND 216, ¶ 8, 587 N.W.2d 568 ; City of Fargo v. Sivertson, 1997 ND 204, ¶ 6, 571 N.W.2d 137. “However, after the defendant has made a prima facie case, the burden of persuasion is shifted to the State to justify its actions.” Sivertson, at ¶ 6. “The movant initially has the burden to make specific allegations of illegality and to produce evidence to persuade the court the evidence should be suppressed.” State v. Pogue, 2015 N.D. 211, ¶ 10, 868 N.W.2d 522 (citing State v. Glaesman, 545 N.W.2d 178, 182 n. 1 (N.D.1996) ). Whether law enforcement violated constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure is a question of law. State v. Uran, 2008 ND 223, ¶ 5, 758 N.W.2d 727.


[¶ 9] On appeal, Schmidt argues his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated; therefore, the district court erred by not suppressing all evidence acquired after the officer detained Schmidt. Specifically, Schmidt argues the officer illegally seized him by ordering him out of the room, handcuffing him, and transporting him to the living room.

[¶ 10] “To stop a person for investigative purposes, an officer must have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a law has been or is being violated.” State v. Parizek, 2004 ND 78, ¶ 9, 678 N.W.2d 154. “In determining whether an investigative stop is valid, we use an objective standard and look to the totality of the circumstances.” Id. “The question is whether a reasonable person in the officer's position would be justified by some objective manifestation to suspect the defendant was, or was about to be, engaged in unlawful activity.” Id.

[¶ 11] Schmidt relies on Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 335, 110 S.Ct. 1093, 108 L.Ed.2d 276 (1990), arguing the officer was required to leave immediately after locating Lavallie. In Buie, the United States Supreme Court emphasized that:

[A] protective sweep, aimed at protecting the arresting officers, if justified by the circumstances, is nevertheless not a full search of the premises, but may extend only to a cursory inspection of those spaces where a person may be found. The sweep lasts no longer than is necessary to dispel the reasonable suspicion of danger and in any event no longer than it takes to complete the arrest and depart the premises.

494 U.S. at 335, 110 S.Ct. 1093 (footnote omitted) (emphasis added). Schmidt's reliance on Buie is misplaced. The district court did not rely on the protective sweep analysis of Buie to justify his detention. Rather, the district court stated Schmidt was detained and handcuffed for officer safety after evidence of illegal activity was discovered. “Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, police may, in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner, detain an individual for investigative purposes when there is no probable cause to make an arrest if a reasonable and articulable suspicion exists that criminal activity is afoot.” Anderson v. N.D. Dept. of Transp., 2005 ND 97, ¶ 8, 696 N.W.2d 918 (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) ).

[¶ 12] The parties do not dispute the officer was lawfully in a constitutionally protected area while executing the arrest warrant and observed drug paraphernalia in plain view. See Schmidt, 2015 ND 134, ¶ 11, 864 N.W.2d 265 (concluding that a misdemeanor bench warrant provides law enforcement the authority to enter a residence of the person named in the warrant in order to execute the warrant); see also Gagnon, 2012 ND 198, ¶ 12, 821 N.W.2d 373 (“The ‘plain view’ doctrine only applies when an officer is legitimately in a constitutionally protected area.”). This Court has recognized that police officers may ‘freeze’ a situation and conduct a limited investigative stop of persons present at the scene of a recently committed crime without violating the Fourth Amendment.” Parizek, 2004 ND 78, ¶ 10, 678 N.W.2d 154 ; see also City of Devils Lake v. Lawrence, 2002 ND 31, ¶ 11, 639 N.W.2d 466 (discussing the limited authority of law enforcement to freeze the scene of a crime in order to investigate individuals who reasonably may be involved in the criminal activity). Nevertheless, relying on State v. Torkelsen and City of Fargo v. Wonder, Schmidt contends his mere presence at the residence was insufficient for the officer to formulate reasonable suspicion justifying his detention. See Torkelsen, 2006 ND 152, ¶ 15, 718 N.W.2d 22 ([I]t is axiomatic that presence at or near the scene of a crime, without more, does not give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.”); see also Wonder, 2002 ND 142, ¶ 23, 651 N.W.2d 665 (“Mere presence at the scene of a crime is not sufficient to support a warrantless search.”).

[¶ 13] Schmidt's reliance on Torkelsen is misguided. Torkelsen did not involve freezing the scene of a crime. Rather, in Torkelsen, police officers stopped Torkelsen in his vehicle several hours after he left the crime scene, when there...

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