State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Walter Jay Combes, Appellant (A04-2044), Kathleen Susanne Black, Appellant (A04-2047).Annotate this Case
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480 A. 08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALSA04-2044
Walter Jay Combes,
Kathleen Susanne Black,
Filed January 17, 2006
Meeker County District Court
File Nos. K1-03-843, K8-03-841
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Paul R. Kempainen, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Michael J. Thompson, Meeker County Attorney, Meeker County Courthouse, 325 North Sibley Avenue, Litchfield, MN 55355 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414; and
Melissa Sheridan, Assistant State Public Defender, 1380 Corporate Center Curve, Suite 320, Eagan, MN 55121 (for appellant Combes)
Michael F. Cromett, Assistant State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant Black)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Wright, Judge.U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
At the time of the search, Black, Combes, and Leslie Bollin, an acquaintance, were present at the residence. Officers recovered a vial containing .2 grams of methamphetamine from Black. Bollin admitted that he had been using methamphetamine at the Black-Combes residence that afternoon.
The search also yielded more than 1,000 pseudoephedrine pills along with large quantities of blister packs used to store the pills. Many of the blister packs were empty, but at least 26 still contained pseudoephedrine pills. In addition, officers recovered a jar containing several hundred pseudoephedrine pills. Along with pseudoephedrine, police recovered a lithium battery package and a receipt indicating that the battery pack was purchased on November 17. Police seized solvents and other chemicals used in methamphetamine manufacture, as well as a liquid propane gas tank that had been altered in a manner consistent with use for manufacturing methamphetamine. Another tank tested positive for the presence of anhydrous ammonia, a chemical used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Black and Combes were charged with first-degree conspiracy and attempt to manufacture methamphetamine, a violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, subds. 2(a), 3(a), .096, subd. 1 (2002). Black also was charged with fifth-degree possession of methamphetamine, a violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subds. 2(1), 3(a) (2002).
Black and Combes moved to suppress evidence obtained from the search of their residence for lack of probable cause. After a hearing, the district court denied the motions. The matter proceeded to a joint trial, and a jury convicted Combes of conspiracy and attempted manufacture of methamphetamine. Black was convicted of conspiracy and attempted manufacture of methamphetamine, and possession of methamphetamine. These appeals followed.D E C I S I O N
Black and Combes argue that the district court erred by not suppressing evidence obtained during the search of their home because there was no probable cause for the search. Probable cause exists if an affidavit sets forth competent evidence sufficient to lead a reasonably prudent person to believe that evidence of a crime will be found at the location to be searched. State v. Bagley, 286 Minn. 180, 192, 175 N.W.2d 448, 456 (1970).
The task of the issuing magistrate is simply to make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him [or her], including the "veracity" and "basis of knowledge" of persons supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.
We review the district court's determination of probable cause to issue a search warrant to ascertain whether there is a substantial basis to conclude that probable cause exists. State v. Harris, 589 N.W.2d 782, 787-88 (Minn. 1999). In determining whether a warrant is supported by probable cause, we do not review the district court's decision de novo. Id. at 787. Rather, we give great deference to the issuing court's probable-cause determination. State v. Rochefort, 631 N.W.2d 802, 804 (Minn. 2001); State v. McCloskey, 453 N.W.2d 700, 703 (Minn. 1990).
Here, an affidavit from Agent Cruze accompanied the search-warrant application. The search-warrant affidavit established that in 1999 police began receiving information suggesting that Black and Combes manufactured methamphetamine at their residence. A confidential informant advised police in December 2002 that Combes was supplying methamphetamine to another individual. Police received an anonymous tip in January 2003 describing strange odors emanating from the residence. In May 2003, another confidential informant advised police that Black and Combes had admitted making methamphetamine at their residence. This informant also corroborated the first informant's statement about Combes supplying another individual with methamphetamine. Finally, the search-warrant affidavit described the multiple purchases of pseudoephedrine that Black and Combes made on November 17.
Black and Combes argue that the district court erred in finding probable cause because much of the information in the search-warrant application was stale, there was no nexus between the residence and the alleged criminal activity, and the reliability of the informants could not be determined from the information in the search-warrant application. None of these arguments is supported by the record.
When considered in its totality, the information in the search-warrant application was not stale. To prevail over a claim of staleness, there must be proof of facts "so closely related to the time of the issue of the warrant as to justify a finding of probable cause at that time." State v. Souto, 578 N.W.2d 744, 750 (Minn. 1988) (quoting Sgro v. United States, 287 U.S. 206, 210, 53 S. Ct. 138, 140 (1932)). Any staleness in the background information provided by the confidential informants was cured by the observations of Black and Combes purchasing large quantities of pseudoephedrine at four different stores on the day that the search warrant was issued.
The search-warrant application also established a sufficient nexus between the Combes-Black residence and methamphetamine manufacture. Minnesota courts require "a direct connection, or nexus, between the alleged crime and the particular place to be searched, particularly in cases involving the search of a residence for evidence of drug activity." Id. at 747-48. And "there must be specific facts to establish a direct connection between the alleged criminal activity and the site to be searched." Id. at 749. Here, information from confidential informants, an anonymous tip, and police observation of Black and Combes returning home with large quantities of methamphetamine precursors provided the issuing judge with specific facts establishing a direct connection between the alleged criminal activity and the residence.
Finally, the warrant application discussed the reliability of both informants, noting that information provided by one informant led to an earlier arrest and that information provided by the other informant soon would result in charges against seven individuals for controlled substance crimes. Such information is precisely the type that the Minnesota Supreme Court has acknowledged can be used to establish the reliability of confidential informants. Wiley, 366 N.W.2d at 269 n.1. Accordingly, the district court did not err when it found probable cause for the search.
In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, our review is limited to an analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the jurors to reach a guilty verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). We assume the jury believed the evidence supporting the verdict and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary. State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). We will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. Bernhardt v. State, 684 N.W.2d 465, 476-77 (Minn. 2004).