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State v. Dotson

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 17, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Blake Joseph Dotson, Appellant.

         Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-15-15669.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jodi Lynn Proulx, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Jesson, Judge; and Smith, John, Judge.


         Minnesota Statute § 504B.211, subd. 4(1), (3) (2016) gives property managers limited rights of entry, not rights of use, and therefore does not confer authority to consent to a search of the leased premises.


          SMITH, JOHN, Judge [*]

         Appellant challenges his conviction of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(a)(1) (2014), arguing that the conviction must be reversed because police entered the apartment where he was staying without lawful justification, detained him without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and arrested him without probable cause. Because we conclude that Minn. Stat. § 504B.211 does not give a landlord or property manager rights of use to a leased property, police did not obtain valid consent to enter the apartment, and no exception to the warrant requirement applies, we reverse.


         Testimony from two evidentiary hearings establishes that on June 9, 2015, J.C., property manager of Spruce Place apartments and J.B., maintenance technician, noticed a water leak in the maintenance shop of the apartment building. They believed the water leak to be coming from apartment 2, so they went to the apartment and J.C. knocked on the door. An unknown male opened the door, invited J.C. and J.B. into the apartment, and stated that he believed the leak was coming from the bathroom.

         While inside the apartment, J.C. observed people in the bedroom, one of whom had a needle up to his arm. J.C. also observed used needles, a pipe, and a "marijuana machine-type thing" later identified as a marijuana grinder. J.C. then "went and got" J.B., who was looking at the bathroom sink. They left the apartment, stating they would be back later to fix the leak.

         After leaving the apartment, J.C. called the police and spoke with Sergeant Poidinger. J.C. asked if police could remove the people and the narcotics from the apartment. Sergeant Poidinger stated he could not evict the people, but police would "certainly take the narcotics investigation."

         When police arrived at the apartment complex, J.C. and J.B. "re-entered the apartment to see if anyone was still there." J.C. relied on a clause in the lease agreement that allowed management to enter the apartment for purposes of maintenance. After finding the apartment empty, J.C. told police officers that they could enter the apartment. Sergeant Poidinger entered the apartment, saw the drug paraphernalia, called another officer to apply for a search warrant, and froze the scene from inside the unit until a judge signed the warrant.[1] "Freezing the scene" means guarding a potential crime scene to avoid evidence tampering. Police froze the scene from inside the apartment because officers "were already in the apartment, " there were only three officers present, and the apartment had three points of entry. No search occurred while the officers froze the scene.

         While the officers were inside the apartment, appellant Blake Joseph Dotson, an overnight guest staying at the apartment, used the security buzzer to be let into the apartment. One of the officers buzzed Dotson into the building and, after Dotson knocked, let him into the apartment. The officers identified themselves and stated they were "executing a search warrant." The officers asked Dotson if he had any weapons in his possession. Dotson stated that he had a knife in his pocket, and he put his hand into his pants pocket. One of the officers grabbed Dotson's hand and removed the knife from his pocket. The knife was approximately five to six inches long. Police also noted that Dotson appeared "homeless, " had a full backpack, and was nervous.

         During the encounter with Dotson, someone else knocked on the apartment door. Before the officers could answer the door, Dotson yelled out, "They're doing a search warrant in here." Officers escorted Dotson away from the door, pushed him down on a couch, and handcuffed him. Dotson was arrested for obstructing the legal process.

         Pursuant to the arrest, police searched Dotson and in his wallet found a small, white piece of paper with a bulge in it. Police opened the paper and found "a crystal like substance that I believed to be Methamphetamine." The substance field-tested positive for methamphetamine. Dotson was charged with felony-level fifth-degree controlled-substance crime (possession).

         Dotson filed a pretrial motion to suppress the methamphetamine, arguing that: the officers' entry into the apartment was unlawful; police lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him; and probable cause to arrest him. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the lease gave J.C. authority to enter the apartment without notice and to allow the police inside, and that police had both reasonable suspicion and probable cause to detain and arrest Dotson. Dotson filed a motion to reconsider, arguing that the J.C. did not have actual authority to permit police to enter the apartment based on the lease because Minn. Stat. § 504B.211 does not allow a tenant to waive the right to notice based on provisions in a lease. The district court reconsidered its decision, but ...

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