Syllabus by the Court
law-enforcement officer may seize an item pursuant to a
search warrant if the item is described in the search
warrant, if there is a strong relationship between the seized
item and the things described in the search warrant, or if
the seized item clearly and definitely relates to the
suspected criminal conduct that gave rise to the issuance of
the search warrant.
County District Court, File No. 74-CR-18-944
Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Daniel
McIntosh, Steele County Attorney, Christy M. Hormann,
Assistant County Attorney, Owatonna, Minnesota (for
Rogosheske, Ryan J. Grove, Rogosheske, Rogosheske, & Atkins,
PLLC, South St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)
and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and
Alan Sexter is charged with third-degree criminal sexual
conduct and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. He
filed a motion to suppress evidence that was found during a
search that was conducted pursuant to a search warrant. The
district court granted the motion in part by suppressing a
blue-and-white striped towel on the theory that its seizure
was not justified by the search warrant, which authorized
law-enforcement officers to seize a "white dish
towel-like cloth." The state challenges that part of the
district courts ruling in this pre-trial appeal. We conclude
that the district court erred by suppressing the
blue-and-white striped towel because there is a strong
relationship between the blue-and-white striped towel and the
things described in the search warrant and because the
blue-and-white striped towel clearly and definitely relates
to the suspected criminal conduct that gave rise to the
issuance of the search warrant. Therefore, we reverse and
February 2018, Sexter lived on a farm in Steele County with
his wife and three children, including a then-17-year-old
girl. On February 27, 2018, the girl reported to her schools
social worker that Sexter had sexually and physically abused
her. Specifically, the girl stated that, two days
earlier, Sexter had forced her to engage in oral sex.
matter was reported to law enforcement. Sergeant Okins of the
Steele County Sheriffs Office and a social worker
interviewed the girl later that day. The girl described
various incidents occurring over a period of several years.
With respect to the incident occurring two days earlier, the
girl told Sergeant Okins that, when she and Sexter were in
the cab of a truck for the purpose of plowing the driveway,
he kissed her and forced her to manually stimulate his penis.
The girl said that she and Sexter then went to a red shed on
the farm, that he told her to get on her knees, and that he
inserted his penis into her mouth. The girl said that Sexter
then asked her to grab "a white cloth, similar to a dish
rag" so that he could use it to wipe his penis. She said
that she gave the item to him and that he threw it down when
he was finished using it.
Sergeant Okins, Deputy Woltman, and Chief Deputy Hanson
prepared an application for a warrant authorizing a search of
Sexters property and the taking of a sample of Sexters DNA.
A district court judge approved the application and signed
the warrant. The search warrant authorized the seizure of
three items or categories of items that were believed to be
present on Sexters farm, including a "white dish
towel-like cloth used by suspect following the sexual assault
which is believed to be located in the red shed."
Sergeant Okins, Deputy Woltman, and Chief Deputy Hanson
executed the search warrant later that same day. They seized,
among other things, four towel-like items: two that are
entirely white, one that is white with a floral design, and
one that is both light blue and white in a striped pattern.
The officers observed but did not seize a red cloth. Later
that evening, after Sexter was arrested, Sergeant Okins
obtained a DNA sample from him. Forensic testing was
conducted on the four cloth items that were seized. According
to the complaint, forensic testing of the blue-and-white
striped towel revealed the presence of semen that matches
Sexters DNA sample.
days after the warrant was executed, law-enforcement officers
interviewed the girl a second time. In the second interview,
the girl said that, before she and Sexter were in the truck
plowing the driveway, Sexter held a green folding knife to
her neck and threatened her. She said that the knife is kept
on top of an electrical box in an animal barn. Based on this
additional information, officers sought and obtained a second
search warrant. Officers executed the second search warrant
and seized a knife matching the description.
2018, the state charged Sexter with third-degree criminal
sexual conduct, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.344, subd.
1(g)(iii) (2016), and second-degree assault with a dangerous
weapon, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 1
(2016). In October 2018, Sexter moved to suppress evidence
found during the execution of the February 27, 2018 search
warrant. The district court conducted a contested omnibus
hearing in February 2019. The state called two witnesses:
Deputy Woltman and Sergeant Okins. In a post-hearing
memorandum, Sexter argued that the first search warrant was
not supported by probable cause and that the seizure of the
blue-and-white striped towel exceeded the scope of the search
warrant. In response, the state argued that the first search
warrant was supported by probable cause, that the seizure of
the blue-and-white striped towel did not exceed the scope of
the search warrant, and alternatively that the seizure of the
blue-and-white striped towel is justified by the plain-view
exception to the warrant requirement.
April 2019, the district court filed an order in which it
granted in part and denied in part Sexters motion. The
district court denied the motion with respect to Sexters
probable-cause challenge. The district court granted the
motion with respect to the blue-and-white striped towel on
the ground that "the seizure of the blue and white
striped towel ...