A district court’s order denying the suppression of evidence in a drug crime case was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the unpublished decision State v. Ryan Anthony Colclasure.
Defendant Colclasure brought a motion before the district court to suppress evidence seized on the basis that the search of his person was unconstitutional.
On June 8, 2010, Colclasure was laying on a sidewalk in front of a restaurant when police responded to call. The officer who responded knew Colclasure had previous arrests for disorderly conduct, assaultive behavior, and marijuana possession. The officer determined that Colclasure was too intoxicated to be left on his own, and the officer agreed to drop Colclasure off at his mother’s house. Before Colclasure got into the squad car, the officer asked him if he was carrying any concealed weapons. Colclasure then placed his hands on the trunk of the squad car consistent with a position that is generally used for police searches. The officer then did a pat-down.
While conducting the pat-down, the officer felt what he believed to be a pill bottle. Colclasure agreed to let the officer remove the bottle from his pocket. After removing the bottle, the officer noticed that the bottle appeared to be a prescription pill bottle without a prescription label. Inside were numerous small white pills and one round orange pill. Colclasure told the officer he had a prescription for the white pills that the orange pill was Adderall. Colclasure was arrested and charged with two counts of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.
Colclasure brought a motion to suppress the evidence of pills on the basis that the search was illegal. The district court denied his motion after a hearing finding that the officer had legitimate safety concerns and, therefore, reasonable grounds for conducting the pat-down search. In addition, the officer testified that Colclasure agreed that he could remove the bottle, and when the officer saw that the bottle contained two types of pills with no label, there was a violation of the law. The district court found that these facts were sufficient grounds for the officer to seize the Adderall pill. Colclasure waived his right to a jury trial and submitted the matter to the district court on stipulated facts. The district court found Colclasure guilty of one count of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance and dismissed the other count. Colclasure then appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Pat-down searches by officers are permitted and are not unconstitutional if the officer has an objective reasonable suspicion that the individual may be armed. The officer must be able to point to specific facts to conduct the search. Officer safety is a valid reason to conduct a pat-down, and may not require additional suspicion if the officer has lawfully stopped a citizen and is going to put the citizen in a squad car. The Court of Appeals determined that the pat-down of Colclasure was validated because the officer knew of Colclasure’s past assaultive behavior, and Colclasure was very intoxicated. Therefore, the Court of Appeals found there was a reasonable safety concern and thus a basis for the officer to pat-down Colclasure prior to putting him in the squad car.
Colclasure also challenged the district court’s findings that he consented to the removal of the pill bottle from his pocket alleging that his consent was not voluntary. No probable cause or reasonable suspicion is required if a person voluntarily consents to a search, but if there is a challenge to the issue of consent, the state bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the consent was given freely and voluntarily. The court will consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the consent was given freely and voluntarily. In this case, the Court of Appeals agreed with the district court noting that Colclasure removed the bottle after only being asked to do so once, and there was no evidence that he ever refused to remove the bottle. In addition, he was handcuffed at the time he was asked to remove the bottle or in the back of the squad car yet.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals found that the district court did not err in denying Colclasure’s motion for suppression of the evidence.