August 2022


Appellant had an online Dropbox storage account, the terms for which state the company may disclose information relating to the account for various reasons and prohibit the storage or sharing of unlawful pornographic files. A Dropbox employee submitted a tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with 63 images they believed to be child pornography found in a Dropbox user account. The Center forwarded the tip and images to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who reviewed the images and linked the Dropbox account to Appellant. The BCA executed search warrants for the remainder of Appellant’s Dropbox account and Appellant’s electronic devices. The BCA found additional child pornography videos stored in Appellant’s Dropbox account. Appellant was charged with four counts of possession of child pornography. The district court denied Appellant’s motion to suppress evidence from his Dropbox account, finding that Appellant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his Dropbox account, and, even if he did, the private search doctrine applies. After a stipulated facts trial, the court found Appellant guilty. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing Appellant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his Dropbox account. The private search doctrine permits government agents to duplicate searches performed previously by private parties without violating the Fourth Amendment. The State must prove (1) a private actor conducted the initial search; and (2) the scope of the initial search and the scope of the subsequent search were the same. The evidence may still be subject to suppression if the private party who conducted the initial search was acting as an agent of the government. The Supreme Court holds that the burden of proving the private party was acting on behalf of the government falls on the party seeking suppression of the evidence. The Supreme Court also holds that the district court did not clearly err when it found the State met its burden to prove the private search doctrine applies. The evidence shows an employee of a private company, Dropbox, manually reviewed Appellant’s files, and the BCA’s subsequent unwarranted search was no more intrusive.
As Appellant sought suppression of the Dropbox evidence, he was required to prove Dropbox acted as a government agent in searching his files. This determination focuses on (1) whether the State knew of and acquiesced in the search; and (2) whether the search was conducted to assist law enforcement’s interests or the interest of the private party. Appellant did not make a sufficient showing on either of these points. As such, the Supreme Court finds the initial warrantless search of Appellant’s Dropbox did not violate the Fourth Amendment. State v. Pauli, A19-1886, 2022 WL 3640916 (Minn. Aug. 24, 2022).


Appellant appealed her convictions in Waseca County District Court for deprivation of parental custodial rights by concealment and false reporting of a crime, claiming the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. Appellant kept her child outside of her court-ordered parenting time, claiming the child was ill and needed medical attention, and reporting the child’s father abused the child to both medical staff and police.
First, the Court of Appeals finds the evidence is insufficient to prove Appellant “concealed” the child from his father. Minn. Stat. § 609.26, subd. 1(1), states that “[w]hoever intentionally… conceals a minor child from the child’s parent where the action manifests an intent substantially to deprive that parent of parental rights” is guilty of a felony. A conviction under this section requires proof that Appellant intended to hide the child from his father. However, the circumstantial evidence does not preclude any rational hypothesis inconsistent with guilt. While Appellant kept the child from his father, kept him out of day care, and did not answer calls from police, she told the child’s father of her plans to keep the child at her home because he was sick. She also brought the child to multiple medical providers, which supports an inference that she intended to keep the child to obtain medical treatment for him, not to hide him from his father. Next, the court finds sufficient evidence of venue for Appellant’s false report conviction. Appellant argues Minn. Stat. § 609.505, subd. 1, allows for venue only in the county where the false report was made (Blue Earth County), not where the report was received (Waseca County). Venue is proper where any element of the offense was committed. Section 609.505, subd. 1, provides that “[w]hoever informs a law enforcement officer that a crime has been committed… knowing that the person is a peace officer…, [and] knowing that it is false and intending that the officer shall act in reliance upon it, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The court holds this section provides for venue in both the county where a false report is made and the county where law enforcement received the false report. “To inform” means “to impart information to,” which inherently requires affirmative communication to another and receipt of that information. Thus, the act of informing under section 609.505, subd. 1, includes two components – making a false report and the receipt of that false report. As such, venue is proper where the false report is made and also where it is received. The court finds sufficient evidence that Appellant’s false report was received by law enforcement in Waseca County. Appellant’s deprivation of parental custodial rights conviction is reversed, but her conviction for falsely reporting a crime is affirmed. State v. Johnson, A21-1360, 2022 WL 3711386 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2022).