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State v. Daniels

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 24, 2014

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Jennifer Lynn Daniels, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce B. Haskell, Judge.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Dawn M. Deitz, Assistant State's Attorney, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Chad R. McCabe, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers. Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice. Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., concur in the result. Sandstrom, Justice, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 671

Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] Jennifer Lynn Daniels appeals a district court judgment and order deferring imposition of sentence entered following Daniels' conditional plea of guilty to Possession of Alprazolam and Possession of Carisoprodol, both class C felonies. We hold the deputy's warrantless search of Daniels' purse was not justified under the consent exception to the search warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We reverse the district court's judgment and order deferring imposition of sentence and denial of Daniels' motion to suppress, and we remand with instructions to allow Daniels to withdraw her conditional guilty pleas.

I

[¶2] In January 2013, a Burleigh County Sheriff Deputy stopped a vehicle for expired registration. Daniels was sitting in the front passenger's seat. The deputy asked the driver, Daniels, and another passenger for identification, and Daniels retrieved her North Dakota driver's license from her purse. The deputy saw Daniels grab her purse and remove her identification from the purse.

[¶3] The deputy obtained consent from the driver to search the vehicle, and the deputy asked the occupants to step out to the front of the vehicle. The deputy did not give the occupants any other instructions and did not tell anyone to leave anything or take anything with them. Daniels exited the vehicle, but left her purse inside. Daniels was aware that the deputy was going to search the vehicle. The deputy did not get permission from Daniels or the other passenger to search their belongings. Daniels did not give the driver permission to use or consent to a search of her purse.

Page 672

[¶4] While searching the vehicle, the deputy searched a purse located on the floorboard of the front passenger's seat, which belonged to Daniels. In the purse, he found an Advil container that had an assortment of pills in it. Lab tests confirmed that the pills were Alprazolam and Carisoprodol. Daniels was arrested for Possession of Alprazolam and Possession of Carisoprodol, both class C felonies.

[¶5] Daniels moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the search, arguing that the driver's consent to the search of the vehicle did not extend to a search of Daniels' purse, and the search was therefore warrantless and unconstitutional. The district court denied Daniels' motion, and Daniels conditionally pled guilty, reserving the suppression issue for appeal.

II

[¶6] Daniels argues the warrantless search of her purse was unconstitutional because the deputy did not have her consent to search the purse and the driver's consent to search the vehicle did not extend to a search of her purse. " The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures." State v. Guscette, 2004 ND 71, ¶ 7, 678 N.W.2d 126 (citation omitted). This Court has previously concluded that an individual's purse is an area subject to Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. See State v. Tognotti, 2003 ND 99, ¶ 20, 663 N.W.2d 642 (" A purse, like a billfold, is such a personal item that it logically carries for its owner a heightened expectation of privacy, much like the clothing the person is wearing." ). For a search to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a warrant is required, unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies. State v. Genre, 2006 ND 77, ¶ 17, 712 N.W.2d 624. It is the State's burden to show that an exception to the search warrant requirement applies. State v. Mitzel, 2004 ND 157, ¶ 12, 685 N.W.2d 120.

[¶7] One exception to the warrant requirement is consent. State v. Uran, 2008 ND 223, ¶ 6, 758 N.W.2d 727 (citation omitted). The same standard is used to analyze cases under the consent exception, regardless of whether the search was of a vehicle or of a house. See id. at ¶ 7 (applying the United States Supreme Court's reasoning in a vehicle search case, Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 251, 111 S.Ct. 1801, 114 L.Ed.2d 297 (1991), to a search of a house). " The scope of consent is measured objectively by what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the police and the suspect." Id. (citations omitted). In this case, consent was the only justification for the warrantless search of Daniels' purse offered by the State and relied on by the district court.

[¶8] When reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress, this Court defers to the district court's findings of fact, recognizing the district court is in the best position to assess the credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence. Genre, 2006 ND 77, ¶ 12, 712 N.W.2d 624. Although generally issues concerning the existence of consent and whether a search exceeds the scope of consent are considered questions of fact, see State v. Graf, 2006 ND 196, ¶ 10, 721 N.W.2d 381 and State v. DeCoteau, 1999 ND 77, ¶ 9, 592 N.W.2d 579, in this case, Daniels alleges the district court misapplied the law concerning consent. " Questions of law are reviewed under the de novo standard of review." Genre, 2006 ND 77, ¶ 12, 712 N.W.2d 624 (citation omitted).

Page 673

III


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