STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
C7-00-2185


Gina Marie Gerding, petitioner,
Appellant,

vs.

Commissioner of Public Safety,
Respondent.


Filed June 12, 2001
Affirmed
Hanson, Judge


Freeborn County District Court
File No. C4-99-1324


Samuel A. McCloud, Kelly Vince Griffitts, Suite 1000, Circle K. Box 216, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for appellant)

Michael A. Hatch, Attorney General, Darren L. Dejong, Assistant Attorney General, State of Minnesota, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Hanson, Judge, and Foley,* Judge.

S Y L L A B U S

Violation of the statutory prohibition against suspending any object between the driver and the windshield provides a constitutional basis for an investigative stop, without any showing that the object obstructed the driverís vision.

 

O P I N I O N

On appeal from an order sustaining the revocation of her driverís license, appellant challenges the district courtís conclusion that a traffic stop did not violate her constitutional rights. She argues that the hanging of an object from her rear vision mirror was not unlawful, and thus did not justify the stop, because there was no evidence that the object obstructed her vision. She also argues that the information the officer received from an identified citizen informant was insufficient to provide the officer with a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. We affirm.

FACTS

On October 20, 1999, a citizen informant reported to Officer Cantu that she saw several individuals in a motel parking lot, standing around a silver Saturn with open containers of alcohol. When Cantu arrived, he saw a Ford Escort leaving the parking lot. He pulled up behind it and noticed an object hanging from its rear vision mirror. He stopped the car based on that object. He ultimately arrested the driver, appellant Gina Marie Gerding, for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Appellant sought judicial review of the subsequent revocation of her driverís license. At the implied consent hearing, appellant challenged the legality of the stop. The district court held that Cantu was justified in stopping the car based on his observation of an object hanging from the carís rear vision mirror, in violation of Minn. Stat. ß 169.71, subd. 1 (1998). The court also held that the information Cantu received from the citizen informant provided a legitimate, independent basis for the stop.

ISSUES

  1. Does Minn. Stat. ß 169.71, subd. 1 (1998) prohibit the suspension of any object between the driver and the windshield, regardless of whether that object obstructs the driverís vision?
  2. Was an identified private citizenís tip that a group of people had open containers in a parking lot sufficient to provide a legitimate basis for a stop?

 

ANALYSIS

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Minnesota Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, ß 10. Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers may, however, make limited, warrantless investigative stops of vehicles when there is a "particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity." State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921-22 (Minn. 1996).

While the factual basis required to support a stop for a routine traffic check is minimal, the stop must not be the product of "mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity." State v. Harris, 572 N.W.2d 333, 337 (Minn. App. 1997) (quotation omitted). Instead, it must be based on "specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant [the] intrusion." Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921-22 (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)). "In reviewing a district court's determinations of the legality of a limited investigatory stop, we review questions of reasonable suspicion de novo." State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. 2000) (citation omitted).

 

I.

Gerding argues that Minn. Stat. ß 169.71, subd. 1 prohibits objects suspended from the rear vision mirror only if the object obstructs the driverís proper vision. The district court concluded that the statuteís plain meaning prohibits suspending any object whatsoever, without regard to whether it obstructs the driverís vision.

The interpretation of statutes is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998). When construing a statute, our goal is to ascertain and effectuate the legislature's intent. Tuma v. Commír of Econ. Sec., 386 N.W.2d 702, 706 (Minn. 1986). This court must give effect to a statuteís plain meaning when the words are unambiguous. Id.

Minn. Stat. ß 169.71, subd. 1 provides:

No person shall drive or operate any motor vehicle with a windshield cracked or discolored to an extent to limit or obstruct proper vision, or, except for law enforcement vehicles, with any objects suspended between the driver and the windshield, other than sun visors and rear vision mirrors, or with any sign, poster, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, sidewings, side or rear windows of such vehicle, other than a certificate or other paper required to be so displayed by law, or authorized by the state director of the division of emergency management, or the commissioner of public safety.

(Emphasis added).

The statuteís plain meaning is unambiguous, effective and certain: while some window cracks and discoloration are permissible, no objects other than sun visors or rearview mirrors may be suspended between the driver and the windshield. The words in the statute Ė "to an extent to l