This opinion will be unpublished and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

C0-00-424

 

 

Donald Bliss Brookins, petitioner,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Commissioner of Public Safety,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed December 12, 2000

Reversed and remanded

Halbrooks, Judge

 

Dakota County District Court

File No. C1998470

 

 

Mark A. Paige, 295 Marie Avenue East, West St. Paul, MN 55118 (for appellant)

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Joel A. Watne, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)

 

 

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HALBROOKS, Judge

            This appeal arises from a driver’s license revocation.  Appellant Donald Bliss Brookins argues that the arrest was illegal and, therefore, any evidence obtained after his arrest must be suppressed.  Because we conclude that the district court erred in its determination that appellant’s arrest was legal, we reverse and remand for reinstatement of appellant’s driver’s license.

FACTS

            At 9:45 p.m. on May 27, 1999, State Trooper Hauge was dispatched to investigate a hit-and-run accident that had occurred on the Thompson Avenue exit ramp of southbound Highway 52.  Hauge contacted the victim by telephone.  She reported that as she was driving on the Thompson Avenue exit ramp, an older model station wagon struck the right rear of her vehicle as it attempted to pass her.  Both vehicles pulled over, and the other driver approached her car and told her not to leave the scene of the accident until the police arrived.  The other driver then drove away.  The victim gave the officer the other vehicle’s license plate number and a general description of the driver, who appeared to her as if he had consumed “a case of beer.”

            Hauge found that the license plate was registered to Donald Bliss Brookins.  At 10:22 p.m. that same evening, Hauge and West St. Paul Police Officer O’Neill went to an apartment building listed as the address on appellant’s registration.  The officers knocked on appellant’s door at least four times before a white male, who matched the general description the victim had given, opened the door.  The male acknowledged he was appellant.  When Hauge explained that the officers wanted to ask him about the accident, appellant attempted to shut the door.  The officers pushed the door open as appellant pushed back.  Eventually, appellant backed away from the door, and the officers entered his apartment.  The officers asked appellant to place his hands behind his back.  When he refused, they wrestled appellant to the floor and handcuffed him.

            After handcuffing appellant, Hauge began questioning him about the accident.  Appellant claimed that he had left the scene because the other driver had been yelling at him and that her car had swerved into his vehicle as he was attempting to exit the highway.  Appellant also claimed that he had one or two beers prior to the accident and then drank more after he got home.  Hauge observed that appellant smelled of alcohol, spoke in a slurred fashion, and had bloodshot and watery eyes.

            The officers took appellant to Hauge’s squad car.  Hauge questioned appellant again, at which point appellant admitted that he had not had any alcohol since the accident.

            A neighbor let the officers into the apartment building’s garage to search for appellant’s vehicle.  O’Neill found appellant’s vehicle and observed “damage to the left front quarter panel.”  Hauge then ran a background check on appellant and discovered that he had two prior convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI).

            Appellant was taken to the West St. Paul Police Department.  Hauge read him the Motor Vehicle Implied Consent Advisory and appellant replied that he understood the advisory and wanted to talk to an attorney.  Hauge gave appellant a telephone directory and the opportunity to make a phone call, but appellant subsequently declined to use the phone.  Hauge asked appellant to submit to a breath test, but appellant refused.  As a result, appellant’s license was administratively revoked pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169.123 (1998).

            Appellant petitioned for judicial review of his license revocation.  The parties stipulated to Hauge’s report and submitted written arguments without a hearing.  The district court sustained the revocation of appellant’s license, finding, among other things, that the officers lawfully entered appellant’s apartment and arrested him for gross misdemeanor driving under the influence.  The court noted that “based on all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time of arrest,” the officers had probable cause to believe appellant was involved in the accident and to require him to submit to an alcohol test.

D E C I S I O N

            Appellant argues that the officers violated Article I of the Minnesota Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when they entered his apartment and arrested him without a warrant.  If the officers illegally arrested appellant, he contends that the evidence of intoxication must be suppressed, leaving insufficient evidence for probable cause.  See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 484, 83 S. Ct. 407, 415-16 (1963).

            In reviewing district court rulings on Fourth Amendment issues, this court accepts a district court’s findings of fact unless clearly erroneous.  But this court will independently apply Fourth Amendment caselaw to the facts as found.  State v. Saffeels, 484 N.W.2d 429, 430 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 1, 1992); State v. Wasson, 602 N.W.2d 247, 250 (Minn. App. 1999).  The district court did not make a specific finding on the point at which the arrest occurred, but its findings of fact suggest that the court found that appellant was under arrest once he was placed in Hauge’s squad car. 

We find that the district court erred when it determined that appellant’s arrest was lawful.  We start with the well-established rule that “a warrantless entry of a person’s house to make an arrest is per se unreasonable.”  State v. Paul, 548 N.W.2d 260, 264 (Minn. 1996) (citation omitted).  Moreover, courts are “reluctant to find exceptions to this rule.”  State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 222 (Minn. 1992).

            Generally, “[a]n arrest takes place when officers restrain a suspect’s liberty of movement.”  State v. Lohnes, 344 N.W.2d 605, 610 (Minn. 1984) (citations omitted); see also Paul, 548 N.W.2d at 265 (“Once the police tell someone to stop, a ‘seizure’ occurs for Fourth Amendment purposes.”); State v. Carver, 577 N.W.2d 245, 248 (Minn. App. 1998) (ordering the suspect to lie on the ground does not constitute an arrest but the additional act of handcuffing him did constitute an arrest).  On the other hand, briefly stopping a suspect does not constitute an arrest if necessary to protect an investigating officer or to prevent contamination of the crime scene.  State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 137 (Minn. 1999).  Even innocent activity may validly “justify the suspicion of criminal activity” for purposes of an investigatory stop.  State v. Johnson, 444 N.W.2d 824, 826 (Minn. 1989) (citation omitted). 

Respondent characterizes the officers’ entry and struggle with appellant as a mere investigatory detention.  The district court also deemed the officers’ entry to be merely investigatory and, therefore, not illegal, because appellant’s “actions of trying to close the door * * * gave the officers a justification for barring the closing of the door so they could continue their investigation.”

            Respondent cites Kirsch v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 440 N.W.2d 147 (Minn. App. 1989), and State v. Moffatt, 450 N.W.2d 116 (Minn. 1990), as examples of reasonable investigatory detentions.  In Kirsch, a lone police officer detained a suspect for two hours while he assisted several people injured in a car accident and waited for assistance in investigating a fatality.  In Moffatt, police officers detained three individuals suspected of burglary for 61 minutes, placing each in a separate squad car while their tennis shoes were compared to footprints at the crime scene.  Both cases involved emergency situations in isolated areas where the local police departments had a limited number of officers readily available for assistance.

            Appellant’s detention is quite different from the situations discussed in Kirsch and MoffattCf. Moffatt, 450 N.W.2d at 119 (determining whether a detention is reasonable or not “depends on the facts and circumstances”).  Here, appellant was forcibly restrained when the officers pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him.  Under the reasonable-person standard, these aggressive actions constituted an arrest, as respondent clearly could not and was not free to move.  See Carver, 577 N.W.2d at 248.  None of the special circumstances relied on in Kirsch and Moffatt — a remote location, a small police department, an emergency situation, or multiple parties — are present here.  Additionally, both Kirsch and Moffatt deal with whether the duration of a detention was reasonable, not whether the detention was reasonably executed.

Respondent argues that even if the officers’ actions constituted an arrest, the arrest was legal because they had probable cause at that moment to arrest appellant for DWI.  We find no evidence in the police report to support this alternative argument.  Respondent argues that this case is exactly like Costillo v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 416 N.W.2d 730 (Minn. 1987).  In Costillo, there were several facts that persuaded the supreme court to find probable cause:  the police knew the defendant was using a false name, the damaged vehicle was clearly visible in the defendant’s driveway, and one officer could readily determine the defendant was intoxicated after a short conversation.  Although there are some similarities, the district court here found that the officers were not aware of any indicia of intoxication until after they arrested appellant.  Further, the officers did not discover that appellant’s vehicle was damaged until after appellant had been handcuffed, questioned, and placed in the squad car.  Respondent agreed to stipulate to the officer’s report and must stand by these facts for better or for worse.  Without probable cause, respondent cannot justify the officers’ entry into appellant’s apartment and his arrest because this is not “an arrest which has been set in motion in a public place.”  Paul, 548 N.W.2d at 264 (citation omitted).

            In light of this record, the officers’ actions cannot reasonably be considered to be a “detention” and must be treated as a de facto arrest, executed without a warrant in appellant’s residence.  As a result, any evidence obtained subsequent to the illegal arrest must be suppressed.  See Wong Sun, 371 U.S. at 484, 83 S. Ct. at 415-16.

            Although we recognize the important public policy interest in punishing drunk driving, it does not here outweigh the protections of the Fourth Amendment.  See Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d at 224 (“The constitutional right to be free from unjustified, official invasions of one’s home is basic, and this court will not tolerate its violation.”).  Finding that the arrest was illegal, we do not need to consider the other issues raised by appellant.

            Reversed and remanded.



*  Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.