State v. Warren, A17-1981

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtSchellhas, Judge
PartiesState of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Devell Eshawn Warren, Appellant.
Decision Date31 December 2018
Docket NumberA17-1981

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Devell Eshawn Warren, Appellant.



December 31, 2018

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2018).

Schellhas, Judge

Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-CR-17-9746

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and

Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jean Burdorf, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Appellate Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota, and

Lisa L. Beane, Special Assistant Public Defender, Robins Kaplan, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Reilly, Judge; and Florey, Judge.

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Appellant challenges his conviction of prohibited person in possession of a firearm, arguing that the district court erred by (1) denying his suppression motion; (2) admitting Spreigl evidence of his prior conviction of prohibited person in possession of a firearm; and (3) prohibiting his trial counsel from inquiring about potential jurors' biases against individuals with mental illness. We affirm.


In April 2017, while parked at an intersection, Metro Transit Police Officer Christopher Miles observed a Grand Marquis and a Dodge Durango drive by "at a high rate of speed." Officer Miles had stopped the Durango earlier in the night because an occupant was involved in an assault, and based on the manner in which the vehicles were traveling, Officer Miles believed that the Durango was pursuing the Marquis. Because the Marquis "was obviously fleeing from the Durango for some reason," Officer Miles decided to follow the Marquis without his lights or sirens on to "see if [the driver] was in any danger."

Officer Miles observed the Marquis turn into an alley and park. As Officer Miles drove in the alley, he observed a male get out of the backseat of the Marquis with a shotgun that was partially wrapped in a blanket. Officer Miles knew that under Minnesota law, a shotgun being transferred in a vehicle must be in an enclosed case. The individual then got into the front seat of the Marquis with the shotgun and proceeded to drive farther down the

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alley. When the Marquis reached the dead end of the alley, the Marquis pulled into a parking spot and the driver "fled on foot" with the shotgun.

As the driver of the Marquis fled, Officer Miles exited his squad car and yelled for the individual to stop. Officer Miles chased the individual on foot but lost sight of him when he ran in front of a nearby house. After losing sight of the individual, Officer Miles "heard the shotgun rack," "[l]ike a round being loaded into it." Officer Miles then stopped at the backside of the house to avoid getting shot. There he observed the individual throw the blanket and shotgun over a fence and "heard a clank of metal" when the shotgun hit the ground. The individual then approached Officer Miles, who arrested him and identified him as appellant Devell Warren. Officer Miles later retrieved a blanket and a loaded Remington shotgun in the area where Warren discarded it. Officers searched the Marquis and found several shotgun shells "of the same type and brand" as the shell found in the shotgun that Warren discarded. Because the Marquis was blocking other vehicles in the alley, officers inventoried and then towed it from the scene.

Respondent State of Minnesota charged Warren with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm. Warren moved to suppress all the evidence obtained by the officers, claiming that the officers seized him without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The district court denied the motion. Before trial, the state sought permission to introduce evidence of Warren's 2005 conviction for being an ineligible person in possession of a firearm. Over Warren's objection, the district court granted the state's request. Warren then stipulated to the fact that he was ineligible to possess a firearm.

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During voir dire, Warren's counsel attempted to question prospective jurors about their biases pertaining to individuals with mental illness. The district court prohibited counsel from doing so after concluding that Warren's mental health would not be squarely before the jury. A jury found Warren guilty of the charged offense, and the district court sentenced Warren to 60 months in prison.

This appeal follows.


Denial of Suppression Motion

Warren challenges the district court's denial of his suppression motion, arguing that his seizure was unconstitutional, his arrest was not supported by probable cause, and the warrantless search of his vehicle was unlawful. When considering the denial of such a motion, we review "the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo." State v. Edstrom, 916 N.W.2d 512, 517 (Minn. 2018).

The United States and Minnesota Constitutions protect individuals from "unreasonable searches and seizures" by the government. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. 1, § 10. A search or seizure that is conducted without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. State v. Lugo, 887 N.W.2d 476, 486 (Minn. 2016). Evidence seized in violation of the United States or Minnesota Constitutions must be suppressed. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 13, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1875 (1968); State v. Diede, 795 N.W.2d 836, 842 (Minn. 2011).

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Warren argues that law enforcement improperly seized him when Officer Miles "blocked his vehicle in the dead end of the alley." We disagree. A seizure occurs only when an "officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen." Terry, 392 U.S. at 19 n.16, 88 S. Ct. at 1879 n.16. "[A] person has been seized if in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he or she was neither free to disregard the police questions nor free to terminate the encounter." State v. Cripps, 533 N.W.2d 388, 391 (Minn. 1995). Circumstances that might indicate a seizure include the threatening presence of several officers, an officer's display of a weapon, an officer's physical touching of the person, or the officer's use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance might be compelled. In re Welfare of E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 781 (Minn. 1993). And an officer's directive that an individual stop constitutes a seizure. Id. at 783.

"Not every interaction between the police and a citizen amounts to a seizure." State v. Klamar, 823 N.W2d 687, 692 (Minn. App. 2012). "Generally, no seizure occurs when an officer merely walks up to and speaks with a driver sitting in an already-stopped vehicle." Illi v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 873 N.W.2d 149, 152 (Minn. App. 2015). And a seizure does not occur when "a person, due to some moral or instinctive pressure to cooperate, complies with a request . . . because the other person to the encounter is a police officer." State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 99 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted).

Here, Warren was retrieving the shotgun from the backseat of his already-stopped vehicle when Officer Miles pulled into the alley. And, as the district court found, Officer

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Miles pulled into the alley "without his lights, sirens, or horn indicating to [Warren] that he was being seized." Officer Miles did not display any outward show of authority while he pulled into the alley. Although Officer Miles's squad car blocked Warren's car, the district court found that he did so "incidentally." The blocking of a parked vehicle by police does not automatically amount to a seizure. See Erickson v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 415 N.W.2d 698, 701 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding that "actions by the officers in parking their vehicles, which may have incidentally blocked appellant's vehicle, did not constitute a seizure"). In fact, as the state points out, Warren "obviously felt free to leave because he got back into his car and drove off." Under the circumstances in this case, the district court properly concluded that Officer Miles did not seize Warren when he pulled into the alley behind Warren.

Warren also contends that even if Officer Miles did not seize him when his squad car blocked his vehicle in the alley, Officer Miles seized him when he identified himself as a police officer and ordered Warren to stop. Warren argues that this stop was not supported by the requisite reasonable, articulable suspicion and that the district court therefore erred by denying his suppression motion. Warren's argument is without merit.

Law enforcement may "conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123, 120 S. Ct. 673, 675 (2000) (citing Terry, 392 U.S. at 30, 88 S. Ct. at 1884). "[T]he reasonable suspicion showing is 'not high.'" State v. Bourke, 718 N.W.2d 922, 927 (Minn. 2006) (quoting Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385, 394, 117 S. Ct. 1416, 1422 (1997)). "Reasonable suspicion must be based on specific, articulable facts that allow the

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officer to be able to articulate that he or she had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the seized person of criminal activity." State v. Morse, 878 N.W.2d 499, 502 (Minn. 2016) (quotations omitted). "Police must be able to articulate more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch of criminal activity." State v. Timberlake, 744 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 2008) (quotations omitted). We consider "the totality of the circumstances in determining whether the police had justification for a Terry stop." State v. Hollins, 789 N.W.2d 244, 248 (Minn. App. 2010), review denied (Minn. Dec. 22, 2010).

Here, when Officer Miles exited his squad car and yelled for Warren to stop, he seized Warren. See E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d at 783 (stating that seizure occurs when police direct...

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