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State v. Dexter

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 20, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Tyler James Dexter, Appellant.

          Anoka County District Court File No. 02-CR-17-1410

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Anthony C. Palumbo, Anoka County Attorney, Robert I. Yount, Assistant County Attorney, Anoka, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Mark D. Kelly, Law Offices of Mark D. Kelly, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Jesson, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         If a warrant to search a home relies on information from a confidential police informant about contraband inside the home, but the warrant application includes no facts indicating whether the informant could be considered a government agent who violated the resident-defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.01 entitles the defendant to discover non-identifying information relevant to the constitutionality of the informant's conduct.

          OPINION

          ROSS, JUDGE

         Minneapolis police obtained a warrant to search Tyler Dexter's home based on a tip from a "confidential reliable informant" that contraband was inside. The warrant application included no detail indicating how the informant came to observe the inside of the home. Dexter moved to suppress evidence found in the search on the theory that the informant may have been a police agent who unconstitutionally gathered the information by, for example, entering the home without his consent. And he moved the district court to order the state to disclose the informant's identity, the nature of the informant's relationship with police, and the means by which the informant came to see the contraband inside the home. The district court denied the motions, concluding that a common-law privilege protected the informant's identity and that no evidence supported Dexter's police-agent-entered-without-consent theory. Because Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.01 entitles Dexter to material related to his defense and the common-law privilege protects only the informant's identity, Dexter was entitled to non-identifying information about the informant's relationship with law enforcement and the means by which the informant came to observe the contraband in the home. We therefore reverse the district court's pretrial decisions and remand.

         FACTS

         This appeal arises from Minneapolis Police Officer Jesse Standal's application for a warrant to search Tyler Dexter's home. The relevant part of the application consisted of Officer Standal's affidavit swearing to the following facts:

[I] was recently contacted by a Confidential Reliable Informant, CRI hereinafter, who indicated having knowledge of a party by the name of TYLER DEXTER who is invo[lv]ed in the distribution of controlled substances. Specifically, the CRI indicated that TYLER DEXTER is involved in the distribution of large quantities of marijuana and is commonly in possession of several pounds of marijuana at a time and also has several firearms commonly stored near the marijuana. The CRI indicated having previously observed handguns and rifles at the address and in the possession of TYLER DEXTER. The CRI indicated that TYLER DEXTER . . . often sells the marijuana out of the garage . . . . The CRI further indicated that TYLER DEXTER owns several dogs, many of which are pitbull-type breeds, that are present at the address and that several other adults may also reside at the address but that the CRI has only observed TYLER DEXTER to distribute marijuana and possess firearms at the address, most commonly within the garage. This CRI has previously provided your affiant with information that was found to be accurate and reliable which has resulted in the recovery of large quantities of controlled substances as well as firearms.

         Based on those facts a district court judge issued a warrant to search Dexter's home. Police found more than eight pounds of marijuana, various narcotics, a Mossberg 715T .22 caliber semiautomatic rifle, and a Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic handgun. The state charged Dexter with both possession and sale of controlled substances.

         Dexter challenged the validity of the search warrant in both a motion demanding discovery and a motion to suppress evidence. He argued that the state must disclose how the informant came to observe the contraband in the home and whether the state gave the informant consideration for his tip. He also asserted that the informant's pre-warrant information-gathering activity constituted an unconstitutional search because the informant was acting as an agent of the police and the warrant affidavit included no facts indicating that the informant honored Dexter's Fourth Amendment rights when he positioned himself inside or in the curtilage of Dexter's home to gather the information conveyed to police. He maintained that the state's refusal to disclose how the informant observed the contraband violated Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.01. Dexter added that he has the right to the informant's identity to call him or her as a witness at the hearing on his motion to suppress. The state argued that Dexter had not overcome the presumption that the state is privileged to withhold the informant's identity.

         At the hearing on the discovery dispute, Dexter's attorney explained that he needed information about the relationship between the informant and police so that he could show that the informant was a police agent. And he urged that Dexter was entitled to know how the informant observed the inside of his home, asking rhetorically, "Did somebody break into my client's house?," and arguing, "If [the informant] is a government agent . . . we have to know how that entry was made." The district court understood, summarizing Dexter's primary issue as being whether the "search warrant [is] based upon information obtained by wrongdoing by the State." Dexter's attorney agreed, emphasizing that, although warrant affidavits customarily describe how an informant learned the information conveyed to police, Officer Standal's affidavit said nothing about how the informant came to observe the contraband. And he argued that the omission invites the question of whether the informant was acting as a police agent who gathered the information while violating Dexter's Fourth Amendment rights. He acknowledged that the issue did not require the informant's identity, conceding, "We don't have to know particularly who this was but we have to know how long have they been working for the government[.] What is the consideration they are receiving from the government? Is it to avoid charges and imprisonment or is it to get paid cash? Has this been a two-week relationship or a two-year relationship[?]" And he clarified the concession further, saying, "I am comfortable with the Court . . . fashioning an Order that gets to these issues even if the identity of [the informant] is somehow necessary to be not disclosed. We need to know the relationship for purposes of our argument."

         The state insisted that all of the requested information was privileged and that Dexter's mere speculation that the undisclosed information might implicate his constitutional rights could not overcome the privilege. The district court agreed with the state. It denied Dexter's motion for discovery, reasoning that his "request to disclose the identity of the [informant] is founded on mere speculation." The district court never expressly addressed Dexter's modified request for limited, non-identity disclosure about the informant's information-gathering conduct and relationship with the state.

         At the hearing on his motion to suppress, Dexter argued that the state failed to establish that it did not violate his constitutional rights by the informant's information-gathering conduct. The district court rejected the argument based on the words in the warrant application, which did not include any facts supporting ...


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