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State v. Williams

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 28, 2015

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Andrew Robert Williams, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal fro the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas R. Olson, Judge.

Tracy J. Peters, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Scott P. Brand, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.

OPINION

Page 832

Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] Andrew Williams appeals from a criminal judgment entered after conditionally pleading guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and drug paraphernalia. We hold the law enforcement officer's use of a drug canine in a condominium building's hallway did not violate Williams' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. We affirm.

I

[¶2] After receiving " intel" from the Fargo Police Department's Narcotics Unit that marijuana was being sold out of Williams' residence, law enforcement officers went to Williams' condominium building with Disco, a drug-sniffing dog. Upon entering an open gate of a fence surrounding the property, opening an unlocked, unsecured common door, and entering a common hallway of the four-plex condominium building, Disco sniffed the only two doors in the hallway, the door to Williams' privately owned condominium unit and the door to Williams' neighbor's unit. Disco alerted to Williams' condominium door, and Disco's handler also testified

Page 833

he smelled burnt marijuana upon entering the hallway.

[¶3] The officers subsequently obtained a search warrant and searched the premises. On May 20, 2014, Williams was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver within one thousand feet of a school, a class A felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class A misdemeanor. Williams moved to suppress evidence, and the district court denied his motion at the August 25, 2014 hearing on the motion. The State amended count one to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a class B felony, and Williams conditionally pled guilty to both charges, reserving his right to appeal.

II

[¶4] On appeal, Williams argues the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because the use of a drug-sniffing dog in a privately owned condominium hallway was a warrantless and illegal search, and any and all evidence obtained through that search is inadmissible.

[¶5] When reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence, this Court defers to the district court's factual findings and resolves conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. State v. Doohen, 2006 ND 239, ¶ 8, 724 N.W.2d 158. This Court will affirm a district court's decision on a motion to suppress if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the court's findings and if it is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. " Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law." Id. (citation omitted). This Court reviews constitutional rights violations under the de novo standard of review. Beylund v. Levi, 2015 ND 18, ¶ 8, 859 N.W.2d 403.

III

[¶6] Williams argues a warrantless drug dog sniff within a privately owned condominium's curtilage constitutes an unreasonable search.

[¶7] The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 8, of our state constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. State v. Woinarowicz, 2006 ND 179, ¶ 21, 720 N.W.2d 635. Warrantless searches and seizures are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, subject to a few well-delineated exceptions. State v. DeCoteau, 1999 ND 77, ¶ 7, 592 N.W.2d 579. " Evidence discovered during a warrantless search when no exception exists must be suppressed ...


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