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State v. Adams

September 21, 2010

STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE
v.
STEPHEN PAUL ADAMS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Frank L. Racek, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandstrom, Justice.

AFFIRMED.

[¶1] Stephen Adams appeals a district court order denying his motion to suppress evidence and a criminal judgment convicting him of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver or manufacture. We affirm.

I.

[¶2] In July 2008, after receiving a tip about drugs at a Fargo apartment, police officers conducted a probation search at the apartment, which was occupied by the probationer and Adams. One of the probationer's conditions of probation was that she would "submit [her] person, place of residence and vehicle, or any other property to which [she] may have access, to search and seizure at any time of day or night by a parole/probation officer, with or without a search warrant." The officers entered the apartment, spoke with the probationer in the living room, and then entered the bedroom, where they saw Adams. Adams told the officers he had just smoked a "blunt" in the bathroom. One of the officers handcuffed Adams and brought him into the living room. The officer read the probationer and Adams their rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and questioned them. Adams told the officers there was marijuana in a dresser in the bedroom. The officers found nineteen grams of marijuana and $667 cash in the dresser and also saw a locked safe in the bedroom. The officers asked for the combination. They did not ask to whom the safe belonged. Adams softly stated some numbers, but he would not repeat them. The officers told Adams that if he did not repeat the numbers, they would forcibly open the safe. The officers pried open the safe with a screwdriver and hammer, which took ten to fifteen minutes to accomplish. The officers found three bags of marijuana (each weighing over an ounce), title to a vehicle belonging to Adams, a gun box, $1200 cash, and ammunition. Adams stated the items were his.

[¶3] Adams was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver or manufacture. He moved to suppress the evidence found in the safe, arguing the search of the safe was conducted in an unreasonable manner. The district court denied Adams' motion, concluding the search was a valid search incident to arrest and, in the alternative, a reasonable probation search with the probationer's consent.

[¶4] Adams entered a conditional plea of guilty, but he was not sentenced and no judgment of conviction was entered. He appealed from the order of conditional plea. We dismissed the appeal because no judgment of conviction or final order had been entered. See State v. Adams, 2009 ND 168, 772 N.W.2d 878.

[¶5] A change of plea and sentencing hearing was held. Adams entered a conditional plea of guilty and was sentenced. A criminal judgment and commitment was entered. Adams appeals the order denying his motion to suppress and the criminal judgment.

[¶6] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. The appeal was timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(b). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, §§ 2 and 6, and N.D.C.C. § 29-28-06.

II.

[¶7] When reviewing a district court's decision on a suppression motion, we apply a deferential standard of review and defer to the district court's findings of fact. State v. Olson, 2007 ND 40, ¶ 7, 729 N.W.2d 132. Conflicts in testimony are resolved in favor of affirmance, because the district court is in a superior position to assess credibility of witnesses and to weigh the evidence. City of Fargo v. Thompson, 520 N.W.2d 578, 581 (N.D. 1994). Generally, a district court's decision to deny a suppression motion will not be reversed if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the district court's findings and if its decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal. Olson, 2007 ND 40, ¶ 7, 729 N.W.2d 132.

[¶8] Adams and the State stipulated to the basic facts before the district court. The district court had to analyze the facts to determine whether the search under those circumstances was reasonable. In State v. LaFromboise, 542 N.W.2d 110 (N.D. 1996), we reviewed the district's court's determination of the reasonableness of the manner of a probation search under a deferential standard. 542 N.W.2d at 114 ("The trial court found nothing unreasonable about the length or extent of the search under the circumstances, and neither do we.... We conclude there is sufficient competent evidence to support the trial court's findings. The manner, intensity, and scope of the search were not unreasonable.").

[ΒΆ9] On appeal, Adams argues: 1) the district court erred in concluding the search of the residence was a reasonable probation search; and 2) the district court erred in concluding the search ...


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