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State v. Molnau

Supreme Court of Minnesota

December 6, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Tara Renaye Molnau, Appellant.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael Junge, McLeod County Attorney, Daniel R. Provencher, Assistant McLeod County Attorney, Glencoe, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rochelle Winn, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Tara Reese Duginske, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         Because the police's search of a guest's purse, during their execution of a premises warrant, was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances, the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, Chief Justice.

         The question presented in this case is whether the police violated the Fourth Amendment when, during their execution of a warrant to search a home, they searched a purse that belonged to a guest at the home. The district court and court of appeals concluded that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Because we conclude that the search was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances, we affirm.

         FACTS

         In April 2015 law enforcement applied for a warrant to search the home of N.Z. because police believed N.Z. was selling methamphetamine out of his home. The warrant application sought permission to search the premises and N.Z. for drugs and evidence of drug trafficking. The warrant application also indicated that police believed that a woman, M.L.D., resided at the premises with N.Z., but the application did not provide any other information about M.L.D. or indicate that she was involved in drug trafficking. The district court issued a warrant authorizing the search of N.Z. and his home for methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and materials associated with drug trafficking.

         When police arrived at N.Z.'s home to execute the warrant, they found appellant, Tara Molnau, sitting on a couch in the living room. Police searched the living room and found marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. Police also searched the kitchen, where they found methamphetamine and "suspected hash oil." They also found a purse on the kitchen table. The purse contained 4.002 grams of methamphetamine and Molnau's identification card.

         Respondent State of Minnesota charged Molnau with third-degree controlled-substance crime, Minn. Stat. § 152.023 (2014), for possessing methamphetamine. Before trial, Molnau moved to suppress the methamphetamine found in her purse. She argued that the search violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches, because as a visitor to N.Z.'s residence, the search of her purse was beyond the scope of the warrant. The district court denied Molnau's motion, concluding that irrespective of whether police knew the purse belonged to Molnau, "[t]he officers executing the search warrant could reasonably assume that the items listed in the search warrant could be concealed in a purse, " and that because the purse was not in Molnau's possession, police could properly search it.

         Molnau entered a plea of not guilty, waived her right to a jury trial and her other trial rights, and stipulated to the facts under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4. The parties agreed that the charge was based exclusively on the methamphetamine found in the purse. After a bench trial, the district court found Molnau guilty, stayed imposition of sentence, and placed Molnau on probation.

         Molnau appealed the suppression issue, arguing that as a visitor not named in the warrant, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her belongings, including her purse, even if they were not in her possession when the warrant was executed. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of Molnau's motion to suppress. State v. Molnau, No. A16-0330, ...


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