STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Theodore Harold Johnson,
Filed April 18, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 05044820
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Martin J. Costello, Russell J. Platzek, Katrina E. Joseph, Hughes & Costello, 1230 Landmark Towers, 345 St. Peter Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Worke; Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
A reasonable, articulable suspicion exists to justify stopping a vehicle displaying any colored light, other than permitted by Minn. Stat. § 169.64 (2004).
O P I N I O N
On appeal from a pretrial order granting a motion to suppress evidence of intoxication and dismiss charges of third-degree DWI, the state argues that the district court clearly erred in ruling that the officer, who saw that the engine compartment of respondent’s motorcycle was illuminated by purple recessed lighting, did not have an objective legal basis to stop respondent because the low-level lighting did not actually violate the statute prohibiting unauthorized colored lighting on vehicles. Because the light configuration on respondent’s motorcycle violated Minn. Stat. § 169.64 (2004), the district court erred in dismissing the charges against respondent. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
On July 21, 2005, a police officer observed a Harley Davidson motorcycle displaying a purple light in the engine compartment in the lane next to the officer at a red light. The entire engine, an area of approximately one and one-half square feet, was illuminated purple by recessed lighting, such that the metal and chrome of the engine were illuminated purple. The officer followed the motorcycle to the next red light. Believing the motorcycle’s light configuration to be illegal, the officer conducted a traffic stop of the motorcycle and identified the driver as respondent Theodore Harold Johnson. As a result of the traffic stop and the subsequent DWI investigation, respondent was charged with third-degree driving while impaired, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(1) (2004), and third-degree operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration of .10 or more within two hours, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(5) (2004).
At a pretrial hearing, respondent moved the district court to suppress evidence gathered as a result of the stop arguing that the officer lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion for the stop, and requested that the charges be dismissed. The district court granted respondent’s motion and dismissed the charges. This appeal follows.
Did a reasonable, articulable suspicion exist to justify the traffic stop of respondent’s motorcycle?
A mixed question of law and fact
requires the appellate court “to apply the controlling legal standard to historical
facts” as determined by the district court.
State v. Wiernasz, 584 N.W.2d
1, 3 (
In general, state
and federal constitutions allow an officer to conduct a limited investigatory
stop of a motorist if the state can show that the officer had a “particularized
and objective basis for suspecting the particular person
stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Cortez, 449
Appellant argues that there was a reasonable, articulable suspicion sufficient to justify stopping respondent, and that the district court’s ruling should be reversed and the charges against respondent reinstated. The district court ruled that, while the officer may have had a subjective good-faith belief that a statute was being violated by the light configuration, there was no objective legal basis concluding that the purple light constituted a violation of the law. The district court reasoned that because the light was of a “low level,” it was only a “glow,” and it was not “distracting” or “unsafe,” it did not constitute a “display” of lights under Minn. Stat. § 169.64, subd. 2 (2004), and, therefore, no objective legal basis existed for the traffic stop of respondent’s motorcycle.
Here, the purple light configuration on respondent’s motorcycle
violates Minn. Stat. § 169.64, subd. 2, which states that “[u]nless otherwise
authorized by the commissioner of public safety, no vehicle shall be equipped,
nor shall any person drive or move any vehicle or equipment upon any highway
with any lamp or device displaying a red light or any colored light other than those permitted in this chapter.” (Emphasis added.) Appellant’s argument requires us to interpret
the meaning of “display.” The primary
object of statutory interpretation is to discern and effectuate the intention
of the legislature.
The definition of “display” is “[t]o present or
hold up to view,” and “[t]o exhibit ostentatiously; show off.” The
D E C I S I O N
Because the light configuration on respondent’s motorcycle violated Minn. Stat. § 169.64 (2004), a reasonable, articulable suspicion existed for the traffic stop and, therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the charges against respondent.
Reversed and remanded.