This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
John Herman Kurth,
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Filed April 18, 2000
Hennepin County District Court
File No. IC377335
Richard F. Koch, Koch & Garvis, L.L.C., 3109 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Sean R. McCarthy, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103-2106 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
In this implied consent case, the district court affirmed the Commissioner of Public Safety’s order revoking appellant John Herman Kurth’s driver’s license. Kurth appeals, arguing that the arresting officer lacked a reasonable and articulable basis to stop his vehicle. Because the citizen-informant’s tip and the officer’s own observations supply the reasonable, articulable suspicion required for a valid traffic stop, we affirm.
The facts are not disputed. Eden Prairie police officer Michael Harrington received a dispatch alerting him to a possible drunk driver who was “all over the road” and heading into the city on Pioneer Trail. The Eden Prairie dispatcher gave Harrington the description of a red Ford Taurus and its license plate number. The information originated from a citizen complaint and was relayed by a dispatcher in neighboring Carver County. Harrington later learned that the citizen had given his name and telephone number to the Carver County dispatcher.
Harrington encountered a red Ford Taurus with a license plate number matching the dispatcher’s description waiting at a stop light on Pioneer Trail. Harrington followed it, and saw it weave within its lane, drift from one side to the other, and then suddenly jerk back to the center of the lane. Harrington observed that this jerking and drifting was “pretty much continuous” for a distance of two or three miles. The driver remained in his own lane, but in Harrington’s experience, the vehicle’s movements were consistent with drunk driving. He stopped the Taurus and identified the driver, appellant, by his driver’s license.
Appellant argues that Harrington lacked the reasonable and articulable suspicion necessary for a valid traffic stop. When reviewing the propriety of a vehicle stop on uncontested facts, we make a purely legal determination on the facts as found. Berge v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985).
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, § 10. But for a few exceptions, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514 (1967).
Police officers may, however, make limited, warrantless investigative stops of vehicles when there is a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the stopped person of criminal activity. State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921-22 (Minn. 1996). The stop must not be the product of mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity; instead, it must be based on “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant [the] intrusion.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)).
Appellant claims that neither the citizen informant’s tip, nor Harrington’s observations, fulfill these requirements.
In forming a specific and articulable suspicion of a violation, an officer may rely on the observations of another person. Marben v. Department of Pub. Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Minn. 1980). Information from private citizens is presumed reliable. Id. Because the collective knowledge of the police can provide the basis for an investigatory stop, an officer may in good faith rely on the information relayed through a dispatcher so long as the dispatcher in fact had specific articulable facts to support suspicion of criminal activity. Olson v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 371 N.W.2d 552, 555 (Minn. 1985); Rancour v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 355 N.W.2d 462, 464 (Minn. App. 1984). An officer’s subsequent identification of the caller is adequate so long as the citizen can be identified and held accountable for the report. See Playle v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 439 N.W.2d 747, 748 (Minn. App. 1989).
The district court found that the Eden Prairie dispatcher told Harrington that a citizen reported the license plate number of a red Ford Taurus driving “all over the road,” heading eastbound on Pioneer Trail. The dispatcher later called Harrington to relay the name and address of the citizen-informant. The citizen-informant in this case is not anonymous. He could be located and held accountable for the specific information in his report. On these uncontested facts, the citizen-informant’s tip alone supplied a reasonable, articulable basis for Harrington to stop appellant’s vehicle.
Moreover, an officer’s own observations may independently support a stop. Appellant claims, however, that merely weaving from side to side in his own lane on hilly terrain did not give Harrington a reasonable, articulable basis to stop his vehicle.
The factual basis required to support a stop for a routine traffic check is minimal. State v. McKinley, 305 Minn. 297, 300, 232 N.W.2d 906, 909 (1975). A traffic stop may be upheld even where there has been no traffic violation so long as there are specific and articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, warrant an investigatory stop. State v. Engholm, 290 N.W.2d 780, 784 (Minn. 1980).
Weaving within one’s own lane does not constitute a traffic offense, but nevertheless may warrant a traffic stop. Where driving conditions, such as wind and dark, account for the motion, weaving will not support a stop. See Warrick v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 585, 586 (Minn. App. 1985). Similarly, a mere swerve is insufficient. See State v. Brechler, 412 N.W.2d 367, 369 (Minn. App. 1987). But absent some justification, continuous weaving back and forth within one’s own lane of traffic is unusual, and can justify a stop. See State v. Ellanson, 198 N.W.2d 136, 137 (Minn. 1972) (finding a stop valid where officer observed a car weaving and was concerned that there was a problem with the steering mechanism); Engholm, 290 N.W.2d at 784 (holding a stop valid where an experienced officer suspected drunk driving after observing defendant’s car proceeding slowly, weaving within its own lane).
Harrington offered the uncontroverted testimony that he saw appellant’s vehicle continuously drifting from side to side, punctuated by sudden jerks back to the center of the lane, over the course of two to three miles. This motion was, in his experience, consistent with drunk driving. Although the hills and curves along Pioneer Trail may have accounted for some side-to-side movement, they do not explain the vehicle’s sudden jerks back to the center of the lane. Drunk driving is a rational inference that can be drawn from the facts as specifically articulated by Harrington. The stop is valid based on his observations, notwithstanding the informant’s tip.
We conclude that both the citizen-informant’s tip and Harrington’s own observations supply the reasonable, articulable suspicion necessary for a valid traffic stop.