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State v. Eichers

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 2, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Corey Joel Eichers, Appellant.

Stearns County District Court File No. 73-CR-11-8668

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Janelle P. Kendall, Stearns County Attorney, Carl Ole Tvedten, Assistant County Attorney, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondent).

Cathryn Middlebrook, Interim Chief Appellate Public Defender, Bridget K. Sabo, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Ryan M. Schultz, Benjamen C. Linden, Special Assistant State Public Defenders, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant).

Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

SYLLABUS

1. An airmail package is not seized, under U.S. Const. amend. IV or Minn. Const. art. I, § 10, when a police officer removes the package from an airport conveyor belt for a brief visual inspection.

2. When a police officer prolongs the removal of a package from an airport conveyor belt for the purpose of subjecting it to a narcotics dog sniff, the officer's action constitutes a seizure under U.S. Const. amend. IV and Minn. Const. art. I, § 10, and, to be a constitutionally reasonable seizure, the officer must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe that the package contains contraband.

3. To be a constitutionally reasonable search, a narcotics dog sniff of the exterior of an airmail package must be supported by a law-enforcement officer's reasonable, articulable suspicion that the package contains contraband.

4. Under the totality of circumstances, a police officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe that an airmail package contains contraband when he articulates the facts on which his suspicion is based, including his training and experience and the bases of his inferences.

OPINION

SCHELLHAS, Judge

Appellant Corey Eichers challenges his convictions of two first-degree controlled-substance crimes under Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(1) (2010). Eichers argues that (1) removal of an airmail package from an airport conveyor belt for the purpose of a narcotics dog sniff constituted a seizure under the United States or Minnesota Constitutions; (2) even if removal of the airmail package from the airport conveyor belt did not constitute a seizure, subjecting the package to a narcotics dog sniff constituted a search that required reasonable, articulable suspicion; (3) the narcotics dog sniff of the airmail package was not supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion; and (4) the search warrant for the contents of the package was void because the affidavit supporting the warrant application recklessly misrepresented a critical fact. We affirm.

FACTS

Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport Police Narcotics-Interdiction Officer Mark Meyer has specialized training in drug detection and has been assigned to the Airport Police Narcotics Interdiction Unit since September 1997. He has been an Airport Police Officer since 1990. Officer Meyer works with Brio, a dog that is certified by the United States Police Canine Association to detect cocaine and methamphetamine, among other controlled substances.

While working at a UPS Parcel Sorting Station at the airport in September 2011, Officer Meyer noticed a package traveling on the conveyor belt that was shipped from the UPS Store in Phoenix, Arizona, via "UPS NEXT DAY AIR" to Eichers in Avon, Minnesota. Officer Meyer considered the package suspicious and removed it from the conveyor belt to "take a careful look at the air bill" and "found the following suspicious":

1. The package was shipped from Phoenix, AZ. This is a source city and state for narcotics. 2. Your affiant has found narcotics shipped through UPS from Phoenix many times in the past. 3. The package was sent via [A]ir [S]ervice. Drug couriers use the Air Service because the narcotics will be in the system a shorter time. Air service is very expensive and usually done only by companies. 4. The package appears to be sent from person to person, no company's involved. All of these characteristics are consistent with previous packages that your affiant has found to contain illegal substances.

Because Officer Meyer suspected that the package contained narcotics, he placed it on the floor with 20-25 other packages, brought Brio into the room, and commanded Brio to "'Seek Dope.'" Brio first sniffed other packages and then went to the suspect package and sat, "giving her indication for the odor of narcotics emitting from th[at] package only." The record is silent on the duration of the dog sniff.

Based on the above information, Officer Meyer obtained a search warrant, executed it, and found that the contents of the package consisted of 225.1 grams of cocaine and 29.6 grams of methamphetamine. An officer repackaged the contents, and Eichers accepted delivery of the package. Law enforcement then arrested Eichers, and respondent State of Minnesota charged Eichers with two counts of first-degree controlled-substance crime.

Eichers moved to suppress evidence of the controlled substances. The district court denied his motion. The court concluded that Officer Meyer "did not have a reasonable, particularized basis to support his impression that the parcel contained contraband." But the court also concluded that, "based upon the minimal expectation of privacy associated with a parcel entrusted to a third party, . . . a brief detention [of the package] for closer non-invasive inspection that [did] not deprive the carrier of custody or delay delivery [did] not constitute a seizure and [did not] need [to] be justified by reasonable suspicion" and based in part on the "standard and reasoning of State v. Kolb, . . . reasonable suspicion was not necessary to justify the dog sniff." Eichers reserved his right to contest the district court's denial of his suppression motion, and the parties stipulated to all facts and proceeded under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4.

Based on the stipulated facts, the court found Eichers guilty of both counts of first-degree controlled-substance crime. This appeal follows.

ISSUES

I. Did the police officer seize the airmail package under U.S. Const. amend. IV or Minn. Const. art. I, § 10, when he merely removed the package from the airport conveyor belt for a brief visual inspection?

II. Did the police officer seize the airmail package under U.S. Const. amend. IV or Minn. Const. art. I, § 10, when he prolonged the removal of the package from the conveyor belt for the purpose of subjecting it to a narcotics dog sniff?

III. Was the narcotics dog sniff of the airmail package a search under U.S. Const. amend. IV or Minn. Const. art. I, § 10, that required reasonable, articulable suspicion that the package contained contraband?

IV. Did the police officer have reasonable, articulable suspicion that the airmail package contained contraband when he prolonged its removal from the airport conveyor belt and subjected it to a narcotics dog sniff?

V. Was the search warrant for the contents of the airmail package void because of a material misrepresentation of a fact contained in the affidavit that supported the search-warrant application?

ANALYSIS

When reviewing pretrial orders concerning the suppression of evidence, an appellate court reviews the district court's legal determinations de novo and its factual findings for clear error. State v. Milton, 821 N.W.2d 789, 798 (Minn. 2012). The United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. "A defendant's 'rights to challenge any search under Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution are coextensive with [the defendant's] rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.'" State v. Griffin, 834 N.W.2d 688, 695-96 (Minn. 2013) (quoting State v. Carter, 596 N.W.2d 654, 656 (Minn. 1999)).

"We review de novo a district court's ruling on constitutional questions involving searches and seizures." State v. Anderson, 733 N.W.2d 128, 136 (Minn. 2007); see In re Welfare of G.M., 560 N.W.2d 687, 690 (Minn. 1997) (noting that standard for reviewing district court's reasonable-suspicion determination for Terry stops and probable-cause determination for warrantless searches is de novo). We will not reverse a correct decision by the district court simply because we disagree with its reasoning. See Kahn v. State, 289 N.W.2d 737, 745 (Minn. 1980) (noting, in a civil case, that the supreme court will not "reverse on appeal a correct decision simply because it is based on incorrect reasons"); see also State v. Fellegy, 819 N.W.2d 700, 707 (Minn.App. 2012) ("We may affirm the district court on any ground, including one not relied on by the district court."), review denied (Minn. Oct. 16, 2012).

"A 'seizure' of [a package possessed by a private freight carrier] occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property." United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113, 104 S.Ct. 1652, 1656 (1984), quoted in United States v. Demoss, 279 F.3d 632, 635 (8th Cir. 2002). A meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in the property occurs when an officer asserts "dominion and control over the package and its contents." Jacobsen, 466 U.S. at 120, 104 S.Ct. at 1660.

No Minnesota appellate court has squarely addressed the seizure of a mailed package, but the United States Supreme Court has addressed the issue.[1] "The Eighth Circuit also has addressed search-and-seizure issues pertaining to mailed packages.[2]Although not binding on Minnesota state courts, Eighth Circuit caselaw can be persuasive. See Minn. Twins P'ship v. State, 592 N.W.2d 847, 854–55 (Minn. 1999) (treating federal circuit court interpretation of Supreme Court caselaw as persuasive but not binding), cert. denied, 120 S.Ct. 517 (1999); State v. McClenton, 781 N.W.2d 181, 191 (Minn.App. 2010) ("We recognize that although we are not bound to follow precedent from other states or federal courts, these authorities can be persuasive."), review denied (Minn. June 29, 2010), and cert. denied, 131 S.Ct. 530 (2010).

"When a defendant alleges that a search violated his constitutional rights, we determine whether the search has infringed an interest of the defendant which the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect." Griffin, 834 N.W.2d at 696 (quotation omitted). Here, Eichers had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his sealed package entrusted to UPS. See Jacobsen, 466 U.S. at 114, 104 S.Ct. at 1657 ("Letters and other sealed packages are in the general class of effects in which the public at large has a legitimate expectation of privacy . . . ."); United States v. Van Leeuwen, 397 U.S. 249, 251, 90 S.Ct. 1029, 1031 (1970) ("It has long been held that first-class mail such as letters and sealed packages subject to letter postage . . . is free from inspection by postal authorities, except in the manner provided by the Fourth Amendment."); Ex Parte Jackson, 96 U.S. 727, 733 (1877) ("Letters and sealed packages of this kind in the mail are as fully guarded from examination and inspection, except as to their outward form and weight, as if they were retained by the parties forwarding them in their own domiciles. The constitutional guaranty of the right of the people to be secure in their papers against unreasonable searches and seizures ...


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