This opinion will be unpublished and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
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Filed May 23, 2000
Ramsey County District Court
File Number C4995646
Samuel A. McCloud and Kelly Vince Griffiths, Suite 1000, Circle K, Box 216, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Kelly Susan Kemp, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
In this implied consent case, appellant Patrick Pulczinski requests reversal of the district court's order upholding the revocation of his driver’s license. Appellant argues that the arresting officer did not have a reasonable, articulable basis for stopping his vehicle. We disagree and affirm.
The essential facts are undisputed. At about 3:42 a.m. on June 12, 1999, White Bear Lake Police Officer Philip Henry responded to a dispatch relaying that a neighbor reported a “fight in progress” in the front yard of a residence “on Blomquist Ave[nue], just west of Hazel Street.” Henry did not have a precise address or a description of the individuals involved, but was able to reach the scene in about thirty seconds. Concerned that someone could be injured, Henry activated his squad car’s overhead emergency lights.
Arriving at the intersection of Blomquist and Hazel, Henry saw only one house in the neighborhood with lights on. The address of the house was 2119 Blomquist, just two houses west of Hazel. There were several cars parked in the driveway, including a Chevrolet van. Because there was no activity or sign of life anywhere else, Henry believed the house was the source of the neighbor’s reported concern. He looked around and did not see a fight, or even any people, except for the driver of the Chevrolet van. As Henry approached from the east with lights flashing, the van backed out of the driveway and headed westbound on Blomquist. No traffic law violations were committed by the driver of the van.
Henry, seeing no other activity outside and concerned that the driver of the van may have been involved in the fight reported to him only thirty seconds earlier, stopped the van to investigate. Henry identified appellant as the driver and subsequently arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol. Appellant disputes the constitutionality of the stop, arguing that Henry did not have the requisite reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop of his vehicle.
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). Officers must be able to “point to specific and articulable facts which, together with reasonable inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the invasion of a citizen’s personal security.” State v. Engholm, 290 N.W.2d 780, 783 (Minn. 1980). When reviewing the propriety of a traffic stop on established facts, we “analyze the testimony of the officers and determine if, as a matter of law, the officers were justified under the cases in doing what they did.” State v. Storvick, 428 N.W.2d 55, 58 n.1 (Minn. 1988).
Minnesota cases do not require “much of a showing in order to justify a traffic stop.” State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997). “All that is required is that the stop be not the product of mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity.” Marben v. Department of Pub. Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Minn. 1980) (quotation omitted). Officers need not observe a traffic law violation, and may make their assessments on the basis of all of the relevant circumstances, drawing on inferences and making deductions that “might elude an untrained person.” Holm v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 416 N.W.2d 473, 474 (Minn. App. 1987). “These circumstances include the officer’s general knowledge and experience, the officer’s personal observations, information the officer has received from other sources, the nature of the offense suspected, the time, the location, and anything else that is relevant.” Appelgate v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 402 N.W.2d 106, 108 (Minn. 1987).
Where a recent crime has been reported, an officer may “freeze” the situation by stopping vehicles near the scene. Id. When determining whether a "freeze" stop is proper, we consider, among all the circumstances, the six factors discussed in Appelgate: (1) the particularity of the description of the offender or the vehicle in which he fled; (2) the size of the area in which the offender might be found; (3) the number of persons about in that area; (4) the known or probable direction of the offender’s flight; (5) observed activity by the particular person stopped; and (6) knowledge or suspicion that the person or vehicle stopped has been involved in other criminality of the type presently under investigation. Id. at 108. While these factors guide our inquiry, none are dispositive. See id. (explaining that the six factors “may be taken into account”). For example, when an area is small, a stop for investigation may be made even when the officer does not have a description of the suspected offender. Id. at 108-09.
The district court found that seven objective facts articulated by Officer Henry, when viewed under the totality of the circumstances, supported Henry’s suspicion that appellant was involved in the reported fight:
(1) At 3:42 a.m. dispatch reported a fight in progress in the front yard; (2) only one house in the vicinity had lights on and several cars were parked in front of the house; (3) Officer Henry arrived in the area within 30 seconds of receiving the call; (4) No people were outside of the house or on the street; (5) No other vehicle in the area was moving or occupied; (6) his squad car lights were on as he approached the house and he was certain the petitioner saw his squad car approaching; (7) the petitioner backed out of the house driveway in front of the officer’s squad car and proceeded to drive away.
The district court recognized that although appellant’s behavior may have been consistent with innocent behavior, under the totality of the circumstances, it reasonably caused Henry to suspect that appellant may have been involved in the reported fight.
Appellant argues that these articulated facts were insufficient to warrant a stop of his van. Appellant points out that Appelgate involved burglary, a crime of anonymity. In contrast, claims appellant, a fight or assault perpetrator would likely be known to the victim, so the need to immediately freeze the scene is diminished. Appellant also asserts that since Henry had not confirmed the reported fight at 2119 Blomquist, had no information about a suspect, and observed no independent conduct of appellant suggesting criminal activity, the stop was the product of “idle curiosity.”
Although appellant correctly distinguishes some of the facts of Appelgate, it does not automatically follow that Henry acted out of whim, caprice or idle curiosity. Henry, responding to a reported fight in progress, faced a possibly continuing situation of unknown dimension that may have involved a serious injury. The only outdoor activity in the vicinity in the early morning hours was a lone van leaving the only lit residence within thirty seconds of the dispatch reporting an outdoor fight.
Similarly, the officer in Appelgate stopped a vehicle based on relatively little information about a reported burglary. There, the arresting officer had no description of the burglar or of any get-away vehicle, and stopped the vehicle in the early morning hours coming from an apartment complex only a few minutes after receiving a report of a burglary in the complex. Id. at 108-109. There was “very little if any” traffic in the area, and the vehicle made two prolonged stops at intersections. Id. at 109. “Looking at the totality of the circumstances -- the whole picture” the supreme court found those facts sufficient to warrant the investigatory stop. Id.
We conclude that the combination of facts as articulated by Officer Henry -- the dispatch report of an outdoor fight in progress “on Blomquist, just west of Hazel,” his thirty second response, the single lit residence with cars parked in the driveway, and the lack of any other outdoor activity in the area but for appellant's departing van -- created a reasonable inference that appellant, the driver of the van, was involved in the reported fight. Henry's decision to stop the van was not the product of whim, caprice, or idle curiosity. Rather, Henry made a reasonable, swift decision, based on particularized and objective facts, to determine whether appellant participated in the reported altercation. Given the very low showing required to justify an investigatory stop, we hold that the stop of appellant’s van was constitutional.
* Retired Court of Appeals Judge, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, §10.