Three bail bond bounty hunters arrived at defendant’s house to take defendant’s brother into custody. Getting no response at the door, they called police for backup. Officers arrived and confirmed that they had a warrant for defendant’s brother and agreed that he might be living there, but they declined to participate other than to secure the perimeter if he fled. The bounty hunters kicked in the door and didn’t find him. They did, however, find drugs which they photographed and showed the police. The officers used that to obtain a search warrant and arrest defendant. The bounty hunters were private actors, and the police directed nothing. Whether the bounty hunters were acting within their rights isn’t even a material issue at this point. State v. Hedstrom, 2017 ND 156, 2017 N.D. LEXIS 160 (June 29, 2017):
[*P11] The district court found that the bounty hunters were not acting as government agents and accordingly concluded that they had conducted a private search that did not run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. It reached this conclusion by finding that (1) although law enforcement officers were present and acquiesced to the search, they did not direct the bounty hunters to search Hedstrom’s home; (2) the bounty hunters acted in their own interests rather than the officers’; and (3) the officers secured a perimeter for the purpose of ensuring safety.
[*P12] The parties argued at length over whether the bounty hunters had a legal right to enter Hedstrom’s home. Our decision does not depend on resolving that question. The officers believed the bounty hunters had legal authority to do what they did. The dispositive issue is whether any action by the officers converts the bounty hunters’ private search into a warrantless government search. Because resolving the issue of the bounty hunters’ authority would amount to an advisory opinion, we decline to address whether they had a legal right to enter Hedstrom’s home. Estate of Nohle, 2017 ND 100, ¶ 17, 893 N.W.2d 755.
[*P13] The district court’s denial of Hedstrom’s motion to suppress turned on its finding that the bounty hunters were not acting in response to government agents. The district court found that although the officers acquiesced to the search, they did not direct the bounty hunters to perform the search. Although an officer testified they secured the perimeter around Hedstrom’s home in hopes of catching the fugitive if he tried to escape, the officer also testified they secured the perimeter for safety purposes. The district court found the perimeter was established for safety purposes, not to assist or cooperate with the bounty hunters’ search. The testimony supported the district court’s findings that the officers did not ask the bounty hunters to enter the home and the bounty hunters did not act at the request of the officers. The officers arrived at the request of the bounty hunters and remained at a distance to protect against bodily injury if a confrontation developed. We are not left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake was made in finding that the officers did not order, encourage, or otherwise participate in the bounty hunters’ search. The district court’s findings are supported by sufficient competent evidence in the record and are not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. The district court’s findings support its conclusion that the bounty hunters’ search was a private search, not a government search, and thus there was no Fourth Amendment violation.