State v. Worrall

Decision Date18 March 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-282,98-282
Citation976 P.2d 968,293 Mont. 439,1999 MT 55
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Russell Eugene WORRALL, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Jeremy S. Yellin, Havre, Montana, for Appellant.

Joseph P. Mazurek, Attorney General, John Paulson, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana; Allin H. Cheetham, Chouteau County Attorney, Fort Benton, Montana, for Respondent.

Justice JAMES C. NELSON, delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Russell Eugene Worrall (Worrall) was charged by information with the offenses of criminal production or manufacture of dangerous drugs, criminal possession of dangerous drugs, and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. The District Court for the Twelfth Judicial District, Chouteau County, denied Worrall's motion to suppress certain evidence. Thereafter, Worrall pleaded guilty to the offense of criminal manufacture of dangerous drugs, reserving the right to appeal his motion to suppress. The remaining charges against Worrall were dismissed. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶3 1. Whether the unproven statements of a child informant may serve as the sole basis for the issuance of a search warrant.

¶4 2. Whether the District Court erred in determining that Worrall failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the application for a search warrant contained material false statements or omissions made knowingly, intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth.

¶5 3. Whether the search warrant application contained sufficient probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant.

Factual and Procedural Background

¶6 On September 27, 1997, 11-year-old Erik Cranmore (Erik) and his friends Dustin Dostal (Dustin) and Jerode Weber (Jerode), were hunting snakes near the sewer ponds north of Fort Benton. In their hunt, they wandered onto Worrall's property. As the boys entered the property, they were met by Worrall's son, James, who showed them an old snake pit behind Worrall's house. While on Worrall's property, Erik and Dustin saw what they believed to be marijuana plants.

¶7 The boys returned home and told Dustin's mother and Erik's grandmother about the plants. Erik and Dustin decided to report their observations to the Chouteau County Sheriff's Department. Hence, Erik and Dustin went to the Sheriff's department and met with Deputy Vernon Burdick (Burdick).

¶8 Burdick spoke with Erik and Dustin for about 15 minutes. The boys told Burdick that they saw marijuana plants growing on Worrall's property. When Burdick asked if they could have been tomato plants, Erik described the difference between marijuana plants and tomato plants. Burdick's account of other portions of this interview differs from that of the two boys. These differences form the basis of Worrall's appeal and will be addressed later in this opinion.

¶9 Burdick did not audio tape or video tape the interview, nor did he obtain written statements from Erik or Dustin or in any way memorialize the conversation. Although both Erik and Dustin stated that Burdick had pen in hand and that he was taking notes during the interview, Burdick denied that he had taken any notes.

¶10 After Erik and Dustin left, Burdick prepared a one-page report describing the interview and faxed it to the Tri-Agency Drug Task Force (the Task Force) in Havre. Deputy Monte Reichelt (Reichelt), team leader of the Task Force, phoned Burdick to discuss the report and to obtain more information about the two boys. Burdick told Reichelt that the boys seemed sincere and that they had never been in trouble before. However, at the hearing on Worrall's motion to suppress, Burdick admitted that he had met with Erik on two prior occasions after Erik had threatened other children.

¶11 Based upon Burdick's report and Reichelt's subsequent conversation with Burdick, Reichelt applied for a search warrant on September 30, 1997. Reichelt did not personally speak with Erik or Dustin. Neither Erik nor Dustin had been an informant previously.

¶12 A search warrant for Worrall's premises, curtilage, outbuildings and vehicles was issued that same day. On October 1, 1997, several law enforcement officers, led by Reichelt, executed the search warrant. In their search, the officers found four marijuana plants. Three were discovered in a ravine southwest of Worrall's house and one was discovered near the southeast corner of the house. Additional amounts of marijuana, marijuana stems, and drug paraphernalia were found in Worrall's house and outbuildings.

¶13 On October 31, 1997, Worrall was charged by information with the offenses of criminal production or manufacture of dangerous drugs, a felony, in violation of § 45-9-110, MCA; criminal possession of dangerous drugs, a felony, in violation of § 45-9-102, MCA; and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor, in violation of § 45-10-103, MCA. On December 24, 1997, Worrall filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized in the search of his home contending that the search warrant application contained a number of material false statements made knowingly, intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth. Attached to Worrall's motion were affidavits from Erik and Dustin disputing several of the statements Burdick had included in his report regarding their conversation with him.

¶14 A hearing on Worrall's motion was conducted on March 3, 1998, wherein testimony was elicited from Erik, Dustin, Burdick, Reichelt and Worrall. In an order filed on March 18, 1998, the District Court denied Worrall's motion to suppress concluding that Worrall had not proven that the information in the application for a search warrant contained deliberate falsehoods or that information was included in reckless disregard for the truth. Hence, the court concluded that there was probable cause to issue the search warrant.

¶15 Pursuant to a plea agreement, Worrall pleaded guilty to the offense of criminal manufacture of dangerous drugs and reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The remaining charges against Worrall were dismissed.

¶16 On May 7, 1998, the District Court deferred imposition of Worrall's sentence for eighteen months upon certain conditions. Worrall appeals the denial of his motion to suppress.

Standard of Review

¶17 The standard of review of a district court's denial of a motion to suppress is whether the court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous and whether those findings were correctly applied as a matter of law. State v. Kuneff, 1998 MT 287, p 6, --- Mont. ----, p 6, 970 P.2d 556, p 6, 55 St. Rep. 1173, p 6 (citing State v. Siegal (1997), 281 Mont. 250, 257, 934 P.2d 176, 180).

Issue 1.

¶18 Whether the unproven statements of a child informant may serve as the sole basis for the issuance of a search warrant.

¶19 Worrall contends that the District Court erred in holding that probable cause existed for the issuance of the search warrant because unverified statements of an unproven informant, much less a child informant, cannot serve as the sole basis for issuance of a search warrant. He argues that allowing a search of his property based upon the uncorroborated claim of an unproven 11-year-old child, after only a fifteen-minute interview, was unreasonable.

¶20 In Kuneff, we observed that information provided to the police that is motivated by good citizenship is a reliable basis for determining probable cause. Kuneff, p 24 (citing State v. Oleson, 1998 MT 130, p 14, ---Mont. ----, p 14, 959 P.2d 503, p 14, 55 St.Rep. 517, p 14). Nothing in the record indicates that Erik's report should be viewed more critically than similar reports from adult citizen informants. This court has not required a greater showing of probable cause where the citizen informant happened to be under the age of eighteen. Moreover, Worrall did not challenge the competency of either Erik or Dustin at the suppression hearing. Both Erik and Dustin testified without objection as to their abilities to tell the truth and to express themselves concerning their personal observations.

¶21 The search warrant application related that Erik personally observed marijuana plants on Worrall's property, that he recognized the plants as marijuana, and that he knew the difference between marijuana plants and tomato plants. These assertions were sufficient to demonstrate the reasonable probability that Erik's information was reliable and not merely speculative.

¶22 Although Worrall complains that Erik's statements were not corroborated by law enforcement officers, this Court has made clear that corroboration is unnecessary under the circumstances of this case. "[C]orroboration of an informant's information through other sources is only necessary when the information is hearsay or the informant is anonymous." State v. Adams (1997), 284 Mont. 25, 37, 943 P.2d 955, 962 (citing State v. Rinehart (1993), 262 Mont. 204, 212, 864 P.2d 1219, 1224). The informant in Adams personally observed the marijuana growing operation and he was not an anonymous informant. Consequently, we concluded that corroboration of his information was not necessary. Adams, 284 Mont. at 37, 943 P.2d at 962. Here, as in Adams, Erik was not an anonymous informant and the information he provided was based upon personal observation, not hearsay. Hence, corroboration of the information he provided to Burdick was unnecessary.

¶23 Accordingly, we hold that the unproven statements of a child informant may serve as the sole basis for the issuance of a search warrant.

Issue 2.

¶24 Whether the District Court erred in determining that Worrall failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the application for a search warrant contained material false statements or omissions made knowingly, intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the...

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1 books & journal articles
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