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Forum staff reports, Published December 27 2013

ND Supreme Court overturns ruling to quash drug evidence

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Supreme Court has overturned a district court judge’s ruling to quash drug evidence sniffed out by a Fargo police dog.

Cass County District Court Judge Wickham Corwin ruled in May that the evidence gathered in State v. Nguyen was inadmissible because officers used the dog to smell for drug odors that allegedly came from under 19-year-old Matthew Nguyen’s apartment door.

Police obtained a warrant to search the apartment, and Nguyen was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Cass County prosecutors asked the state high court to overturn Wickham’s decision. Thursday, the court did so, ruling that the use of a drug-sniffing dog in a secure apartment hallway did not violate Nguyen’s constitutional rights.

Cass County prosecutor Gary Euren argued in his brief to the state high court that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on which Corwin’s decision was based didn’t apply to Nguyen’s case.

In the U.S. Supreme Court case, Euren wrote, a police dog searched a person’s front porch, not a common hallway of an apartment building. Because an apartment is rented, rather than owned, he argued, the renter shares the hallway with others and doesn’t have the same ownership expectation as a homeowner.

Nguyen’s attorney, Mark Friese, asked that Corwin’s decision be upheld. Friese, in his brief, wrote that Nguyen’s building was secured from the public by a buzzer and a security door. He also wrote that people store their packages and personal items in the hallways of this building, and tenants decorate their hallway doors, making it more of a private area for residents.