Drug charges dismissed because of illegal police search

In State v. Kendall, filed June 20, 2011, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s order that the drugs obtained from an illegal search of the Defendant should be suppressed resulting in a dismissal of fifth-degree controlled substance charge against Defendant.

Eight police officers knocked on a residential door to execute a search warrant and Defendant answered and let them in. Defendant was not named in the search warrant. An officer noticed that Defendant did not appear to be well, and believed he either had been using drugs or was ill. Some officers handcuffed Defendant and did a weapons search. After removing three needles that Defendant admitted having in his pants pocket, an officer noticed there was also a metal canister in the same pocket. The officer could not tell what it was, so it was removed and identified as a cigarette case. One of the officers concerned that there may be a weapon in the canister, opened it, and found a plastic bag containing methamphetamine. Defendant was charged with fifth-degree controlled substance in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.035, subd 2(a)(1) (2010).

Since Defendant was not expressly named in the search warrant, the officers had a right to detain him, but not search him except for a pat-down for weapons. This pat-down is allowed for officer safety reasons. The pat-down for weapons has to be reasonable meaning it is likely that an officer suspects an object is a weapon or may contain a weapon. It must be conducted over the suspect’s clothing, and if there is a reasonably questionable object, the officer may go in or under the suspect’s clothing. If the search goes beyond a pat-down, it is considered illegal, and anything discovered would be suppressed. However, if during a search for weapons, an officer comes upon an obvious item of illegal contraband, it may be legally seized.

Defendant brought a motion to suppress evidence of the methamphetamine. The district court granted Defendant’s motion ruling “that the officers had no objectively reasonable belief that the cigarette case was a weapon and, therefore, the officers were not justified in removing it.” The district court also rationalized that if the officers suspected it was contraband, they may have been justified in removing the cigarette case from Defendant’s pants, but there was no basis for them to open the case. Therefore, the search of the cigarette case was illegal because it was not reasonable or necessary, and the evidence of the methamphetamine was correctly suppressed. Since there was no evidence, the charges against Defendant were dismissed.

Drug crime convictions may result in severe penalties, Protect yourself and contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney today.