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State v. Kaul

Supreme Court of North Dakota

March 13, 2017

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Jeremy Allen Kaul, Defendant and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Gail Hagerty, Judge.

          Tessa M. Vaagen, Assistant State's Attorney, Burleigh County State's Attorney, for plaintiff and appellant.

          William R. Thomason, for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          Kapsner, Justice.

         [¶ 1] The State appeals from a district court order granting Jeremy Kaul's motion to suppress evidence. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] On March 18, 2015, officers executed a probation search at the residence of Keirsten Thomas. While speaking with officers, Thomas indicated some paint in the home belonged to Jeremy Kaul. As officers continued their search, officers heard movement of the door handle. The door to the residence had been locked after the officers entered and commenced the probation search. Hearing the noise, an officer opened the door to see Kaul standing in the doorway. The officer identified himself and told Kaul he was going to be detained because they were doing a probation search. Kaul entered the apartment and officers spoke with him and asked for consent to search his person and vehicle. Kaul consented to both and officers searched his person and vehicle, but did not find any contraband. Kaul was asked to consent to a search of his backpack which he refused. Officers requested a K-9 unit to conduct a sniff of Kaul's backpack because he was acting "extremely nervous," and the officer knew Kaul to be a "methamphetamine user, [and] a marijuana user." Roughly fifteen minutes later, the K-9 unit arrived and the dog alerted on Kaul's backpack. Kaul was asked for consent to search his backpack again, and he again refused. Officers seized the backpack, told Kaul he could leave, and Kaul left. Officers applied for and were granted a search warrant for Kaul's backpack. Officers found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in Kaul's backpack when they executed the search warrant.

         [¶ 3] Kaul was charged with possession of methamphetamine, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a controlled substance. Kaul filed a motion to suppress evidence, and the State opposed the motion. The district court held a hearing on the suppression motion at which an officer testified. After both parties questioned the officer, the district court asked several of its own questions. After post-hearing briefs, the district court granted Kaul's motion to suppress. The State appealed.

         II

         [¶ 4] On appeal, the State argues the district court erred by granting Kaul's motion to suppress evidence. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I, section 8, of the North Dakota Constitution, protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. State v. Matthews, 2003 ND 108, ¶ 9, 665 N.W.2d 28.

         [¶ 5] This Court reviews a district court's decision on a motion to suppress as follows:

[W]e give deference to the district court's findings of fact and we resolve conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. State v. Tognotti, 2003 ND 99, ¶ 5, 663 N.W.2d 642. We "will not reverse a district court decision on a motion to suppress... if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the court's findings, and if the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence." State v. Gefroh, 2011 ND 153, ¶ 7, 801 N.W.2d 429. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law. Id.

State v. Reis, 2014 ND 30, ¶ 8, 842 N.W.2d 845. Whether law enforcement violated constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure is a question of law. State v. Uran, 2008 ND 223, ¶ 5, 758 N.W.2d 727.

         [¶ 6] Neither party disputes Kaul was seized immediately after coming into contact with officers. The parties dispute whether the seizure was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court has stated, "the general rule [is] that Fourth Amendment seizures are reasonable only if based on probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a crime." Bailey v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 1031, 1037 (2013). The State contends Kaul's seizure was lawful based on an exception to this general rule. The State relies upon the United States Supreme ...


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