Court rejects home search and fish seizure by DNR officer
AITKIN — Judge John R. Solien of Aitkin County on Tuesday granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence seized in a search that was conducted in an angler’s home on Mille Lacs Lake without a warrant in July.
According to court documents, Richard Southworth and Linda Southworth were observed by DNR Conservation Officer Chris Tetrault fishing with an extra fishing line.
When the Southworth and DNR boats docked at Southworth’s home Tetrault asked if he could look inside the home to see if there were additional fish in the freezer. The defendant replied: “I wish you wouldn’t.” The conversation continued, the court documents said, with Tetrault asking again about searching the freezer and the defendant said “I guess I can’t stop you, can I?”
Officer Tetrault responded “Well, I’d, you know, I’d like if we could just go look together and then we will be a, we’ll figure what we’re going to do from there, okay?”
The defendant, in testimony, said he said “okay” at some point.
The Southworths were later charged with possession of a gross over-limit of wild animal, a gross misdemeanor.
The defendant’s argument was that a warrantless search of the defendant’s home was illegal because it was in violation of his constitutional rights.
The court ruling stated: “The burden is on the state to prove ... that the defendant was clearly and voluntarily manifesting consent to a search. Under the totality of the circumstances, the court finds the state has failed to reach this burden. The defendant was not voluntarily consenting, explicitly or implicitly, to a search of his home, but instead merely submitting to the authority of Officer Tetrault.”
In a news release, defense attorney Bill Peterson of Bloomington said the decision was important for the protection of privacy of Minnesota sportsmen.
The defense attorney said the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens in places or circumstances where they have “an expectation of privacy.”
Peterson noted a person’s home is often considered the most important place where privacy is expected.
Peterson said the DNR seized Southworth’s fishing boat and trailer and claimed it to be confiscated to the state.
“It was a valuable rig, and with the victory on the evidence suppression in court, I think we can get it back to the Southworths,” Peterson said.
Nicholas Wanka, an assistant county attorney for Aitkin County, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.