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State v. Kuruc

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 8, 2014

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Brian Alan Kuruc, Defendant and Appellant; State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Rebecca Jean Larson, Defendant and Appellant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeals from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Wickham Corwin, Judge.


Kara Schmitz Olson, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Neil J. Roesler (argued) and Mark A. Friese (appeared), Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant Brian Alan Kuruc.

Charles J. Sheeley, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant Rebecca Jean Larson.

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Dale V. Sandstrom, Allan L. Schmalenberger, S.J., William F. Hodny, S.J. Opinion of the Court by VandeWalle, Chief Justice. The Honorable William F. Hodny, S.J., and the Honorable Allan L. Schmalenberger, S.J., sitting in place of Kapsner, J., and McEvers, J., disqualified. Crothers, Justice, specially concurring.


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VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Rebecca Larson appealed after she conditionally pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia. Brian Kuruc appealed from a criminal judgment for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, tampering with physical evidence, and possession of drug paraphernalia after also entering a conditional guilty plea. We conclude the district court properly denied Larson and Kuruc's motions to suppress evidence. We also conclude the district court did not err in excluding Larson and Kuruc's Washington medical marijuana prescriptions as a defense to the crimes of possession and possession with intent to deliver.


[¶2] This consolidated appeal arises from two separate criminal cases involving the same facts. On the morning of January 9, 2013, the Cass County Sheriff's Office received a complaint from a front desk clerk at the Days Inn hotel in Casselton concerning the odor of marijuana emanating from a room occupied by Brian Kuruc and Rebecca Larson. Deputies Swenson and Grabinger responded to the complaint. Upon arriving at the hotel at approximately 10:40 a.m., Deputies Swenson and Grabinger were informed by the front desk clerk that Kuruc requested a check-out time of 1:00 p.m., and that approximately six people were currently in the room. The officers detected the faint odor of marijuana in the lobby. They followed the scent to room 104, where the odor was " significantly stronger."

[¶3] Deputy Grabinger knocked on the door to room 104. Larson opened the door. Deputy Grabinger stepped across the threshold of the doorway, identified herself, and requested permission to further enter the room to investigate the complaint. Larson denied Deputy Grabinger's request and attempted to close the door. Deputy Grabinger lodged her foot against the door and prevented Larson

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from closing it. Deputy Grabinger again requested permission to enter. Larson objected. Deputy Grabinger continued to keep her foot in the doorway, physically preventing the door from being shut. Larson remained on the other side of the door. The officers did not have a warrant.

[¶4] Maintaining her presence propped against the doorway, Deputy Grabinger told Larson and the other occupants they were not free to leave and again asked for permission to enter. Larson objected. During the impasse, Larson told the officers she had a medical marijuana prescription from the State of Washington and that there may be marijuana located in her rental car. Deputy Grabinger directed Deputy Swenson to apply for a search warrant. While Deputy Swenson sought a search warrant, Deputy Grabinger told the occupants they were being detained and to stay where they were.

[¶5] Through the open doorway, Deputy Grabinger observed Kuruc grasp a large duffle bag and enter the bathroom. Kuruc closed the bathroom door behind him and refused Deputy Grabinger's commands to leave. At that point, Deputy Grabinger pushed pass Larson and forcibly breached the bathroom door. The deputy observed Kuruc attempting to flush marijuana from the duffel bag down the toilet. Kuruc was arrested. The occupants were ordered into the hallway, detained, and read their Miranda rights. The hotel room was then locked.

[¶6] Narcotics officers arrived and asked for consent to search the room. A consent to search form was signed at approximately 11:49 a.m., and a search commenced. During the search, officers discovered marijuana and paraphernalia. A search warrant was ultimately obtained at 12:51 p.m. Contraband was also discovered in Larson's vehicle.

[¶7] Larson and Kuruc each filed a motion to suppress all the evidence, arguing police conducted an unreasonable search and seizure. The district court found that the warrantless entry into the hotel room was unreasonable and granted the motion to suppress to the extent it excluded Larson's incriminating statements, and evidence seized from her rental car. The court determined the remaining evidence discovered in the hotel was admissible under the independent-source doctrine. Larson and Kuruc also filed motions in limine seeking a court order allowing the introduction of their respective medical marijuana prescriptions from the State of Washington. The court denied the motions. Larson and Kuruc entered conditional pleas of guilty reserving the right to appeal the motions to suppress evidence and the motions in limine.


When reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we defer to the district court's findings of fact and resolve conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. A district court's findings of fact in a suppression hearing " will not be reversed if, after the conflicts in the testimony are resolved in favor of affirmance, there is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the . . . court's findings, and the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence." Although underlying factual disputes are findings of fact, the ultimate conclusion of whether the facts meet a particular legal standard is a question of law, fully reviewable on appeal.

State v. Nickel, 2013 ND 155, ¶ 12, 836 N.W.2d 405 (citations omitted).


[¶8] On appeal, Larson and Kuruc argue the district court erred in applying the

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independent-source doctrine. They argue the search and seizure of the hotel room violated the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 8 of the North Dakota Constitution.

[¶9] The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, states, " The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The North Dakota Constitution similarly protects individuals from ...

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