Nobles County District Court File No. 53-CR-11-940
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Kathleen Kusz, Nobles County Attorney, Travis J. Smith, Assistant County Attorney, Worthington, Minnesota (for respondent)
Melissa Sheridan, Assistant State Public Defender, Eagan, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
On appeal from his fifth-degree controlled-substance conviction, appellant challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence, arguing that certain evidence was discovered during an unlawful search of his property and the subsequent search warrant lacked probable cause without this evidence obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. We affirm.
In October 2011, local law enforcement received two anonymous tips regarding a marijuana-grow operation on appellant David Spies's property. In response to the tips, agents of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force (BRDTF), including Agent Ryan Kruger, went to Spies's house to conduct a "knock and talk." Spies's house and seven outbuildings are on acreage. The house is on the north side of a long driveway. The relevant outbuildings—a barn and what appears to be a shed or chicken coop—are located south of the driveway, about 25-30 yards from the house.
When BRDTF agents arrived at the house, there were two vehicles parked in the driveway. The basement windows were covered. Agents knocked, but no one answered the door. Because of the vehicles in the driveway, Agent Kruger "assumed there was probably somebody outside at the outbuildings." BRDTF agents crossed the driveway and walked across the grass toward the two outbuildings "to see if [they] couldn't make contact with someone." Agent Kruger testified that, in Nobles County, it is a common practice to walk around acreage to contact someone.
In between the two outbuildings, agents observed a two-and-one-half to three-foot tall marijuana plant. Agent Kruger concluded that the plant was being cultivated because it was staked, tied, and growing out of potting soil. Through an open door to an outbuilding, agents saw five-gallon buckets with the bottoms cut out. Agent Kruger testified, based on his experience, that marijuana growers use these buckets to protect their plants.
Agents did not locate anyone in or near the outbuildings. Agent Kruger left the property and sought and obtained a search warrant. Agents then executed the warrant and found marijuana plants in outbuildings and in the house. They subsequently arrested Spies.
Spies was charged with two counts of felony fifth-degree marijuana sale (manufacture) in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 1(a)(1) (2010), and two counts of felony fifth-degree marijuana possession in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(a)(1) (2010). He moved to suppress all evidence on the bases that (1) the discovery of the marijuana plant between the two outbuildings resulted from an unlawful search and (2) the search warrant was not supported by probable cause without the evidence that Spies claims was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied Spies's motion, concluding that "the officer was in a position that he had a lawful right to be in" and that the search warrant was supported by probable cause.
Spies pleaded not guilty, waived his right to a jury trial, and stipulated to the state's case. A bench proceeding was held pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4, preserving the district court's pretrial ruling for review. The district court found Spies guilty of one count of fifth-degree marijuana sale (manufacture), dismissed the remaining ...