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Published August 19, 2011, 05:17 AM

ND Supreme Court Upholds Guilty Pleas in Grand Forks Robberies

(AP) — Police illegally entered the motel room of a man they suspected of robbing several Grand Forks businesses, but that did not invalidate his confession to the crimes during later questioning, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

(AP) — Police illegally entered the motel room of a man they suspected of robbing several Grand Forks businesses, but that did not invalidate his confession to the crimes during later questioning, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled.

Kyle Pederson was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with 18 months suspended, last October after he pleaded guilty to six felony charges of robbery, as well as separate charges of illegal possession of pain pills and drug equipment.

Pederson was arrested at a Grand Forks motel in December 2009 after an informant told police that Pederson, who had used a BB gun in the robberies, had spoken of getting "a real gun" for additional robberies. The informant told police Pederson wanted to buy a shotgun.

Pederson was confronted at his motel room door by four police officers with guns drawn, dressed in body armor and SWAT T-shirts, court records say. The officers said they went into the room after Pederson told them they could enter.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, said prosecutors did not provide enough evidence that Pederson voluntarily agreed to let the officers into his room.

"Generally, courts have held consent is not voluntarily given when officers have their weapons drawn at the individual's door, unless there are other indications the consent was voluntary," VandeWalle wrote. "We conclude the officers unlawfully entered the motel room and arrested Pederson."

During subsequent questioning at the Grand Forks police station, Pederson said he had robbed six Grand Forks businesses, a gas station in neighboring East Grand Forks, Minn., and a drugstore in Mayville, N.D.

Pederson's attorney, Blake Hankey, of Grand Forks, argued that the illegal arrest should have disqualified prosecutors from using Pederson's statements against him, as well as any evidence taken from the motel room and searches of Pederson's home and vehicle.

VandeWalle, quoting a U.S. Supreme Court decision, said the circumstances of Pederson's arrest did not affect statements he made outside the motel room. His confession was not "the product of the illegal entry," the chief justice wrote.

Hankey said Friday that the Supreme Court's conclusion that "you can't give voluntary consent at gunpoint" was "a mini-victory" in the case.

Pederson also contended that investigators should have stopped questioning him once he asked to see an attorney, but the Supreme Court's ruling said his request was unclear.

If a criminal suspect is ambiguous in asking for a lawyer, "the police are not required to end the interrogation or ask questions to clarify whether the accused wants to invoke his right to counsel," the court's majority opinion says.

VandeWalle's opinion was signed by Justices Dale Sandstrom and Daniel Crothers. Justices Mary Muehlen Maring and Carol Ronning Kapsner wrote a separate opinion in which they agreed with the result.

Pederson also faces charges in Traill County, N.D., and Polk County, Minn., in connection with the robberies in Mayville and East Grand Forks.

Stuart Larson, the Traill County state's attorney, said Friday the prosecution of Pederson for the Mayville drugstore robbery was put on hold until the Supreme Court's appeal was decided. Pederson is scheduled to appear in court in Hillsboro, N.D., next week, Larson said.

Hankey said a plea arrangement hadn't been worked out in Traill County, but that he hoped "to get (Pederson) something concurrent to what he's already serving, so he doesn't get any additional jail time."

Greg Widseth, the Polk County prosecutor, was out of the office Friday and did not reply to a telephone message seeking comment.

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