of Appellate Courts Court of Appeals
Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and John J.
Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Adam E. Petras, Assistant
County Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Steven
P. Russett, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota,
police officer's warrantless entry onto the curtilage of
respondent's home and subsequent investigation of a
camper trailer was objectively a nonconsensual search that
violated respondent's Fourth Amendment rights, not a
permissible "knock-and-talk" procedure.
Quentin Todd Chute was convicted of possession of a stolen
camper trailer. He challenges the district court's denial
of his motion to suppress evidence obtained when an officer
entered his property, examined the stolen camper, and then,
after obtaining Chute's consent, searched his home. Chute
contends that the officer's examination of the camper
violated his Fourth Amendment rights and tainted his
subsequent consent to the officer's search of his home.
The district court concluded that the officer's entry
onto Chute's property was lawful because the camper was
on a driveway that was impliedly open to the public, and that
the officer had authority to seize the camper under the
plain-view doctrine. The court of appeals reversed, and the
State sought review. We conclude that because the
officer's conduct objectively amounted to a search and
was not a permissible "knock-and-talk,
" the warrantless search violated
Chute's Fourth Amendment rights. We therefore affirm the
court of appeals.
2011, Maplewood resident B.F. discovered that his pop-up tent
camper had been stolen, and he reported the theft to the
police. Several months later, B.F. was driving on County Road
D in Maplewood when he saw what he thought was his camper
sitting in Chute's backyard.
house is located between two other houses on County Road D,
facing north. His lot is bordered on three sides by a tall,
opaque fence on the east side, a small pond on the south
side, and some trees on the west side. The north side of the
property is unfenced and borders County Road D, which has no
district court found that the property has two driveways. The
first, on the west side of the house, is a short asphalt
driveway leading to a detached garage. The second is a dirt
driveway accessed from the county road, running along the
home's east side, and looping around in the backyard. The
district court found that the dirt driveway is
"well-worn" and forms "a turnaround or
circle" in the backyard. The camper was parked at the
end of the dirt driveway, near the southeast corner of the
backyard. Two other cars were parked near the camper on the
dirt driveway. A second garage is located in the back of the
house on the west side of the lot.
spotting the camper, B.F. made a U-turn and drove past again
to verify that it was his stolen camper. B.F. later testified
that he could recognize the camper from County Road D because
he could see a series of bolts that he had installed along
the rear overhang of the roof when making repairs on the
camper. B.F. called the police.
the responding officer arrived, he verified from the end of
the dirt driveway, while still on County Road D, that the
camper on Chute's property matched the description of the
stolen trailer in the police report made at the time of the
theft. The officer then drove onto the dirt driveway and
parked his squad car approximately halfway down the driveway,
which he estimated to be about 200 feet from County Road D.
The officer and B.F. then walked to the camper. At some point
before they reached the camper, B.F. told the officer about
the unique set of bolts on the trailer.
reached the camper, the officer noticed that the camper's
license plate and vehicle identification number (VIN) had
been removed. He called the manufacturer and learned that a
partial VIN was stamped on the camper's frame. The
officer located the partial VIN, which was consistent with
that of B.F.'s stolen camper. The officer then entered
the camper and located an item of B.F.'s personal
officer testified that, once he verified that the camper was
the one stolen from B.F., he "tried to make contact with
the homeowner." He started walking toward the back of
the home to knock on the door, but when he heard voices from
the garage in the backyard, he decided to knock there
instead. Chute answered the door and, after a discussion,
allowed the officer to search the garage. After finding
several items of B.F.'s personal property from the camper
in the garage, the officer asked Chute for permission to
search his home, and Chute consented. The officer found
additional items of personal property belonging to B.F. in
State charged Chute with possession of stolen property valued
at over $1, 000. See Minn. Stat. § 609.53,
subd. 1 (2016); Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 3(3)(a)
(2016). Chute moved to suppress "all evidence found by
police pursuant to a warrantless search" of his
property. After a hearing, the district court made the
findings described above. Without explicitly finding that the
dirt driveway was within the curtilage of Chute's home,
the district court found that, even if it were part of the
curtilage, the driveway was "impliedly open to the
public" because it appeared that "the area in
question was regularly used by cars carrying persons seeking
a back door entrance to the house and garage." The court
relied on evidence that the area was a "well-worn dirt
area, " that a "definable pathway" existed
leading to the turnaround area at the back of the house, and
that two other vehicles were parked near the camper. The
district court further found that "it is very clear to
the court that the unique bolts on the camper were visible
from the driveway, and after seeing the bolts, it was
immediately apparent that the camper was the one stolen"
district court concluded that, under the plain-view doctrine,
the officer had authority to seize the camper "provided
he had lawful right of access to it." Because the camper
was located on a driveway that was "impliedly open to
the public to access [Chute's] home, " the district
court concluded that the officer "had a lawful right of
access to the camper." As a result, the court denied
Chute's motion to suppress. After a trial, a jury found
Chute guilty of possessing stolen property. See
Minn. Stat. § 609.53, subd. 1.
court of appeals reversed in relevant part. State v.
Chute, 887 N.W.2d 834 (Minn.App. 2016). The court of
appeals held that the plain-view doctrine did not justify the
officer's search of the camper because he did not have a
lawful right of access to it. Id. at 843. Although
the driveway was within the home's curtilage, the court
said, and "[g]enerally, police may not search the
curtilage without a warrant, " id. at 841
(citing State v. Milton, 821 N.W.2d 789, 799 (Minn.
2012)), "police with legitimate business may enter areas
within the curtilage of the home if those areas are impliedly
open to the public, " id. (citing State v.
Crea, 233 N.W.2d 736, 739 (Minn. 1975)). Whether an
officer's entry onto curtilage is legitimate, the court
stated, is "determined by considering the scope of the
implied license that homeowners extend to visitors."
Id. (citing Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S.
1, 6-11 (2013)). The court concluded that the officer
exceeded the scope of the implied license to enter the
driveway because he entered with the purpose to conduct a
search. Id. at 842.
court further held that the unlawful search of the camper
tainted Chute's subsequent consent to the search of his
home, and therefore all evidence from that search should also
be suppressed. Id. at 843-44. The court of appeals
declined to address whether the remaining evidence was
sufficient to support Chute's conviction and remanded to
the district court. Id. at 846-47.
State filed a petition for review, arguing that the court of
appeals erred when it held that the officer's examination
of the camper was an unlawful search. We granted review.