Wendy Brown, et al., Appellants, vs. Bradley Real Estate Trust, et al., Respondents.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Angela Susan Lowell,
Filed May 1, 2001
Waseca County District Court
File No. K4-99-471
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Natalie E. Hudson, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Larry Collins, Waseca County Attorney, Courthouse, 307 North State Street, Waseca, MN 56093 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from her conviction for fifth-degree controlled substance offense under Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subds. 2(1), 3(a) (1998), appellant Angela Lowell challenges a pretrial order denying her motion to suppress evidence seized from her purse. During the execution of a search warrant at a home where appellant was a visitor, police searched appellant's purse and found marijuana, a small amount of cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Because the search of appellant's purse was within the scope of the warrant and because the evidence in the stipulated facts was sufficient to support the conviction, we affirm.D E C I S I O N
Appellant argues that the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to sustain her conviction because the stipulated facts fail to prove that the cocaine tested by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) belonged to her. We disagree.
When reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence, this court must consider whether, under the facts in the record and any legitimate inferences that can be drawn from them, the fact finder could have reasonably found the defendant guilty of the charged offense. State v. Spann, 574 N.W.2d 47, 54 (Minn. 1998).
Appellant stipulated to certain facts after entering a Lothenbach plea. The stipulated facts, which incorporated the search warrant, the police officers' narrative reports, the BCA lab report, and a transcript of appellant's taped statement, established: (1) the only white powder seized from the scene was discovered inside a tin found in appellant's purse; (2) the tin was the only metal container submitted to the BCA for analysis; and (3) appellant admitted that both the purse and the contents of the purse belonged to her. These facts, and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from these facts, are sufficient to establish that the cocaine tested by the BCA belonged to appellant.
Appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress the evidence seized from her purse, because it was the product of an illegal search. See U.S. Const. Amend. IV; Minn. Const. Art. I, § 10 (citizens protected from unreasonable searches and seizures). Appellant believes that the search of her purse exceeded the scope of the warrant because the warrant executed by police was for a search of the person of Donald Sanderson and his residence and did not include her purse.
Searches pursuant to a warrant may not exceed the scope of the warrant. State v. Soua Thao Yang, 352 N.W.2d 127, 129 (Minn. App. 1984). A test of reasonableness is used to determine whether a search has exceeded the scope of a warrant. Id. A reviewing court looks to the totality of the circumstances when applying this test. State v. Thisius, 281 N.W.2d 645, 645-46 (Minn. 1978). When the material facts are undisputed, as here, this court will independently review the facts to determine whether the evidence must be suppressed as a matter of law. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992).
In this case, the police entered the house under a valid search warrant. The warrant provided that the officers were permitted to search the premises for cocaine, marijuana, and any other illegal controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, firearms or weapons, books and receipts, money, and other "items tending to show the identity of * * * other persons involved in criminal activities." A purse in a drug-filled room is precisely the type of container in which police might expect to locate items of the type articulated in the warrant, including controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and/or firearms.
Challenges to searches of containers not specifically listed in a warrant have led to various analyses. See 2 Wayne R. LaFave, Searches & Seizures, § 4.10(b) at 661-66 (1996) (discussing issues relating to searches of personal effects found in premises described in warrant). "Where the courts focus on the physical possession of the item to be searched, the search of personal effects is likely to be upheld where the item is not in the person's immediate possession. State v. Wills, 524 N.W.2d 507, 510 (Minn. App. 1994) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 14, 1995). In this case, the purse was left unattended in the bedroom after appellant was escorted out and was not in appellant's possession at any time during the search.
Other courts focus not on the physical possession of the item, but rather on the "relationship between the person whose personal effects are being searched and the place that is the subject of the search." Id. (citations omitted). Furthermore, some courts have held that police need not even inquire into ownership of items found on the premises subject to a search warrant. Id. Here, there was never an obvious relationship between appellant and the purse, so as to place police on notice that it belonged to appellant or to someone other than Sanderson.
Appellant asserts that the search of her purse was a Wynne search, and that a warrant authorizing a premises search does not necessarily give the right to search all persons who may be on the premises. State v. Wynne, 552 N.W.2d 218 (Minn. 1996). In Wynne, Andrea Wynne approached the house where she was living with her mother as police were executing a search warrant for the premises and any person on the premises. Police took Wynne's purse from her, searched it, and discovered controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. The supreme court reversed Wynne's conviction, stating that "the search of Wynne's purse constituted a search of her person and did not fall within the ambit of the premises search warrant." Id. at 220.
The present case is distinguishable from Wynne. Appellant's purse was not taken from her during execution of the warrant, but rather was found on the floor and unattended in a drug-filled room. Appellant never had possession of the purse, did not bring the purse with her as she was escorted from the room, and made no claim to the purse until confronted by police after the contraband had been discovered.
Under these facts, we conclude that appellant's purse was properly searched during the execution of the search warrant by police at the Sanderson residence and that the trial court did not err when it failed to suppress the evidence seized from appellant's purse. 
 State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980).
 Appellant also argues that police were not justified in conducting a Terry search because they lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that she was engaged in criminal activity or that she was armed and presently dangerous. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1883 (1968). The state counters that police were justified in detaining appellant under Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 704-05, 101 S. Ct. 2587, 2595 (1981), because she was present at the scene during the execution of a search warrant. Given the fact that the occupants of the room were escorted out of the residence on suspicion of a firearm being present and that appellant left her purse behind when she was escorted out, we conclude that the search of appellant's purse was not a Terry search.
 We recognize that a slightly different result was reached by this court in a recently released unpublished opinion, State v. Longsdorf, No. CX-00-2066 (Minn. App. Apr. 24, 2001). Longsdorf, however, is factually distinguishable from this case because: (1) Longsdorf had possession of the item searched, his coat, when police entered the residence to execute the warrant and moved away from the coat only when ordered to do so by police; (2) Longsdorf was allowed to leave, then asked police for the coat so that he might bring it with him; and (3) police then searched the coat and found contraband.