Mille Lacs County District Court File No. 48-CR-11-1280.
Lori A. Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Janice S. Jude, Mille Lacs County Attorney, Daniel N. Rehlander, Assistant County Attorney, Milaca, Minnesota (for respondent)
Mark D. Kelly, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Rodenberg, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge. [*]
Appellant challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence obtained during a search of his residence, arguing that the warrant authorizing the search failed to establish a sufficient nexus between his residence and any suspected criminal activity. We reverse and remand.
On June 15, 2011, officers with the North Central Minnesota Drug Task Force executed a search warrant (Search Warrant I) at the property of James Peterson in rural Princeton, Mille Lacs County. The search revealed a marijuana-growing operation consisting of 211 marijuana plants, together with items used in the cultivation of the plants. During the search, the officers found appellant Calvin Bruce Johnson, who was driving a truck and trailer carrying two 275-gallon watering containers, in close proximity to the marijuana field. No one else was found on the property. Appellant was arrested for possession of marijuana.
That same day, the officers obtained another search warrant (Search Warrant II) for appellant's residence in Milaca, Mille Lacs County, based on the stated belief that "[appellant] is growing marijuana on his property or is in conspiracy with [Peterson] and items of evidence will be located at [appellant's] residence." The applications for both search warrants recited that a confidential informant (CI) told law enforcement officers that Peterson "and other unknown individuals [had] been cloning marijuana plants" on Peterson's property and were "going to be trafficking marijuana when the . . . plants matured." Neither search warrant application identified any criminal activities known to the CI to be carried on at appellant's home in Milaca. Search Warrant II was executed at appellant's home and the search yielded, among other things, marijuana, a handgun and ammunition, a large quantity of cash, and potting soil.
Appellant was charged with, among other things,  felony fifth-degree controlled substance crime under Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(b)(1) (2010) based on his proximity to the growing marijuana on Peterson's property. He was also charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by an ineligible person under Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subds. 1(2), 2(b) (2010) based on the handgun found at his residence. Appellant moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of Search Warrant II, executed at his property in Milaca, arguing that the "warrant application did not state [a] legally sufficient nexus between averments in the application and the residence of the [appellant]." The district court found that, "[i]nasmuch as [appellant] was working the field [on Peterson's property when Search Warrant I was executed], the issuing judge could have inferred that [appellant] had been involved in the early stages of the growing operation and evidence of his involvement would likely be found at [appellant]'s residence." The district court concluded that Search Warrant II was supported by probable cause. Appellant pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree controlled-substance charge based on his presence at the grow operation on the Peterson property, and was convicted of the charge of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person following a bench trial on stipulated facts under rule 26.01, subd. 4. This appeal followed.
The United States and Minnesota Constitutions provide protection from unreasonable searches and seizures and require that no search warrant issue except upon a finding of probable cause. U.S. Const. amend IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. When a warrant is void for lack of probable cause, the evidence seized in execution of the search is suppressed. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 1691 (1961); State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 105 (Minn. 1989).
In determining whether probable cause for a search warrant exists, the issuing judge must look at the totality of the circumstances and "make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the veracity and basis of knowledge of persons supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place." State v. Wiley, 366 N.W.2d 265, ...