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In re Welfare of B.R.K.

April 03, 2003

IN THE MATTER OF THE WELFARE OF: B.R.K.


SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Short-term social guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their host's home under both the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution; therefore, appellant, who was a short-term social guest in his host's home, had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

When sheriff's deputies entered and searched a home where appellant was a guest without first obtaining a warrant, they violated the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution.

Exigent circumstances did not exist to justify a warrantless entry and search of a home where appellant was a guest.

Reversed.

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

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Paul H., Justice

Took no part, Hanson, J.

OPINION

After receiving a report of an underage drinking party at a private home, two Chippewa County sheriff's deputies entered and searched the home without obtaining a search warrant. As a result of their search, the deputies found appellant B.R.K. and three other teenagers hiding behind a furnace in the basement. When questioned by the deputies, B.R.K. admitted to consuming alcohol. He also tested positive for alcohol consumption.

B.R.K. was subsequently charged with consumption of alcoholic beverages by a minor in violation of Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1 (2002). At trial, B.R.K., who was not a resident of the home, moved to suppress all evidence gained by the warrantless entry and search. The district court denied the motion, concluding that B.R.K. did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the home and therefore did not have capacity to challenge the warrantless entry and search. The court then found B.R.K. guilty and adjudicated him a petty offender. The court of appeals affirmed. We reverse.

On the evening of March 10, 2001, B.R.K. attended a party at a private home in Chippewa County. The party was hosted by B.A.O. who lived at the home with his mother and stepfather. B.A.O.'s mother and stepfather did not authorize the party and were out of town on the date of the party. The party commenced at approximately 10:00 p.m. following a high school dance. About 14 teenagers attended and some of them consumed alcohol. B.A.O.'s stepbrother also was present at the party.

Between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., the mother of one of the teenagers arrived at the home to pick up her daughter. After observing the activities, she warned the teenagers that the police may be called. The party then came to an abrupt end and all but four of the participants left. B.R.K. remained at the home along with B.A.O. and two other teenagers. The four remaining teenagers turned off the lights and attempted to lock all of the doors, but, due to ice buildup, they were unable to lock the front door. They then sat on a couch, talked, and watched television with the volume turned all the way down.

Meanwhile, at approximately 11:15 p.m., Deputy Irek Marcinkowski of the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department received a report of an underage drinking party at B.A.O.'s home. Concerned that there would be a large number of teenagers present at the party, Marcinkowski contacted Deputy Aalfs for back up and waited for Aalfs' arrival at the dispatch center. Aalfs arrived at the dispatch center at approximately 11:50 p.m. and the two deputies then drove to the home, arriving at approximately 11:55 p.m. When the four teenagers noticed the deputies' car pull into the driveway, they went to a back room in the basement, shut the door, and hid behind the furnace.

Upon arrival, Marcinkowski observed one car in the driveway. He also noticed that the home was dark except for an illuminated beer sign and another dim light that could be seen through a basement window. The home was a split-entry style home, with basement windows lower than waist level. While walking toward the front door of the home, Marcinkowski looked through the basement window and observed a built-in bar. Only after shining his flashlight through the window was he able to ascertain that there were open hard liquor containers and beer bottles on top of the bar. The deputies then knocked on the front door and announced themselves.

While the deputies were at the front door, a motor vehicle pulled into the driveway. The driver was the same woman who had earlier notified the Sheriff's Department about the party. The woman wanted one of the teenagers, allegedly inside the home, removed from the home because the teenager was supposed to be at her house with her daughters.*fn1 The woman also identified the car in the driveway as belonging to the teenager she was there to pick up.

Marcinkowski testified that at this point he had multiple reservations about the safety of the teenagers inside the home. His concern primarily centered on the various safety hazards associated with teenagers consuming alcohol and the possibility that the teenagers would sustain injuries if they left the home under the influence of alcohol. Moreover, because of an earlier unrelated burglary of the home, he had knowledge that there were guns inside the home.

The deputies knocked on the front door a few more times. When there was no answer, they opened the door, entered the home, and announced themselves. Aalfs searched the upper level while Marcinkowski searched the basement. Marcinkowski walked down the hallway, searched two bedrooms, and finally opened a closed door. The door led to a backroom where he found the four teenagers hiding behind the furnace. When questioned by Marcinkowski, B.R.K. admitted to consuming alcoholic beverages. The deputy administered a preliminary breathalyzer test, and B.R.K. tested positive for alcohol consumption. B.R.K. was then charged with consumption of alcoholic beverages by a minor in violation of Minn. Stat. § 340.503, subd. 1 (2002).

On May 24, 2001, a trial was held before the court. B.R.K. chose not to testify in his own defense. B.A.O. and Marcinkowski were the only two witnesses to testify. B.A.O. testified that he brought three teenagers to the party and that he did not know most of the other guests. It is unclear from the record whether the other guests were invited by B.A.O.'s stepbrother or merely attended the party with the consent of B.A.O. and/or his stepbrother. B.A.O. testified that "probably" some of the guests entered the residence without his or his stepbrother's explicit consent, but "they knew that they could" enter the home and attend the party. B.R.K. was neither one of the teenagers B.A.O. brought to the party nor was B.R.K. personally invited to the party by B.A.O. Nevertheless, B.A.O. testified that B.R.K. was a friend of his as well as a friend of his stepbrother and "was allowed to be" at the party.*fn2

During the trial, B.R.K. moved to suppress all evidence gained by the warrantless entry and search. Marcinkowski was then questioned about why he and Aalfs did not obtain a warrant before entering and searching the home, and gave the following reasons:

Well under circumstances like that it's not always quite easy to obtain a warrant when you have one vehicle team there [']cause in order to obtain a search warrant it's more than just calling my office. Actually we have to leave the property, and actually type a form, a warrant, and have - - we have to find a judge that is willing to look over it, and sign it, and such. So it's quite[indiscernible] and we did not have the comfort of leaving the property because if we would leave the property then ...


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