This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Jana Beth Harrer, petitioner,
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Filed July 11, 2000
Anoka County District Court
File No. C2-99-4995
Douglas V. Hazelton, 600 South Highway 169, Suite 817, Minneapolis, MN 55426 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Max A. Keller, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*
Appellant challenges an order sustaining the revocation of her driving privileges arguing that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to make a custodial arrest for obstructing of legal process. We affirm.
On June 6, 1999, Anoka county police officer Andrew Youngquist was dispatched to the apartment of Jason Lazerte to investigate a domestic situation where appellant Jana Harrer, Lazerte’s girlfriend, refused to leave the premises of Lazerte’s apartment. Upon his arrival at Lazarte’s apartment complex parking lot, Officer Youngquist noticed a car idling in the same space as a parked motorcycle. He ran the license plates on his computer and learned that the car was registered to Harrer.
Officer Youngquist approached the driver’s side of the vehicle and observed that it was no longer running and that an adult woman was in the driver’s seat. Officer Youngquist knocked on the window and asked her to roll it down. She responded verbally but he could not hear her through the window. However, he asked the occupant if she was “Jana” and she nodded in affirmance. Officer Youngquist again asked her to roll down the window, but she continued to speak inaudibly through the window. Officer Youngquist told Harrer that he could not hear her and asked her to roll down the window or open the door.
At this point, Officer Mike Antigua arrived and also attempted to speak with Harrer; she continued to refuse to roll down the window or open her door. Officer Antigua warned Harrer that if she did not comply, a tool would be used to unlock her doors. Officer Antigua then attempted to open the doors using a tool, but every time he got them unlocked, Harrer would re-lock them electronically before he could open the door.
After ten minutes of unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Harrer, Officer Youngquist returned to his squad, called Lazerte, and ascertained the factual background scenario that compelled Lazerte to call the police. Lazerte said he was in the process of ending a romantic relationship with Harrer. She had been calling him from a telephone in the lobby of his apartment building for an hour. Harrer somehow gained access into the apartment building and went to his door. Lazerte asked Harrer to leave, but she forced herself into the apartment and refused to leave. After Lazerte removed her, she resumed calling him from the lobby phone and threatened to push over his motorcycle and damage his truck.
While Officer Youngquist was speaking with Lazerte, several other officers continued unlocking and trying to enter Harrer’s vehicle, only to have Harrer relock them each time. Harrer was warned several times that if she did not comply, she would be arrested for obstruction of legal process. Finally, two officers yelled though the window that she was under arrest for obstructing legal process. Then, one of the officers broke her window and the officers removed her from the vehicle.
Harrer was transported to the police department, administered field sobriety tests, and read the implied consent advisory. Harrer agreed to take an intoxilyzer test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of .11.
The commissioner revoked her license and she appealed to the district court. At the implied consent hearing, Harrer did not challenge the seizure of her person, but instead argued that the results of the intoxilizer test should be excluded because the officers did not have probable cause to arrest her for obstruction of legal process. The district court found that Harrer interfered with the officers’ investigation and sustained the commissioner’s revocation of Harrer’s driving priveleges. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
Harrer challenges the district court’s determination that the officers had probable cause to arrest Harrer for obstruction of legal process. Harrer does not dispute the facts of the case, but only the probable cause determination.
A district court's determination of probable cause is both a question of fact and of law. “Clow v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 362 N.W.2d 360, 363 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Apr. 26, 1985). “Once the facts have been found, the court must apply the law to determine if probable cause exists.” Id.
Probable cause for an arrest has been defined as "a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious [person] in believing the accused to be guilty." State v. Harris, 265 Minn. 260, 264, 121 N.W.2d 327, 330 (1963) (quoting Garske v. United States, 1 F.2d 620, 623 (8th Cir.1924).
Obstructing legal process occurs when a person “obstructs, resists or interferes with a peace officer while the officer is engaged in the performance of official duties.” Minn. Stat. § 609.50 (2) (1998).
Officer Youngquist reasonably suspected that Harrer was involved in a domestic disturbance and possible trespass, and investigated accordingly. At the time Officer Youngquist first asked Harrer to roll down her window or open her door, he had a solid basis for believing that the occupant of the vehicle might be Harrer. Based on Lazerte’s 911 call, it was also likely that he had reason to believe that Harrer was involved in a domestic situation and possible trespass. As Officer Youngquist attempted to persuade Harrer to roll down her window or open her door and as he further discussed the situation with Lazerte, he gained more information that would lead him to believe that this person was involved in the disturbance. Furthermore, Lazerte told Officer Youngquist that Harrer threatened to push over his motorcycle and when Officer Youngquist first pulled into the apartment parking lot, Harrer's car was idling in front of a motorcycle in the same parking space as the motorcycle.
When police officers have reasonable articulable suspicion to believe that a traffic violation or other crime is occurring or has occurred, they may order a driver to exit a vehicle. See Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S 106, 111, 98 S. Ct. 330, 333 (1977) (holding that whenever a police officer lawfully detains a driver for a traffic violation, the officer is justified in asking the defendant to exit the vehicle). Therefore, Officer Youngquist was, at least, authorized to order Harrer out of her car. As she refused to do so, the officer was empowered to arrest her for obstruction of legal process.
Harrer contends that a charge of obstruction of legal process requires a showing that she committed an affirmative physical act, and that her conviction cannot stand because her refusal to roll down her window, open her car door, or exit her vehicle, constituted only refusals to act, not affirmative acts.
We disagree. The key factor in determining whether conduct constitutes obstruction is not its metaphysical nature, but whether it has the same effect as “a particular kind of physical act, one that physically obstructed or interfered with an officer.” State v. Patch, 594 N.W.2d 537, 539 (Minn. App. 1999) (quotation omitted). The prohibited conduct, of course, must be affirmatively directed at the police officers and not simply intended to frustrate police efforts. Id. at 538-40. Here, Harrer did not simply fail to act; she directly obstructed the officers’ investigation when she continually re-locked her doors to prevent the officers’ lawful attempts to investigate the trespass and domestic disturbance.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.