This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Larry Andrew Cochran, Appellant,
Commissioner of Public Safety, Respondent.
Filed February 27, 2001
Douglas County District Court
File No. C2991084
Mike Hatch, Minnesota Attorney General, 1100 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101 (for respondent)
Richard L. Swanson, 1059 Stoughton Avenue, Chaska, Minnesota 55318 (for appellant)
Leanne Litfin, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 200, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55103-2106 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Hanson, Judge, and, Poritsky, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges an order denying his petition to rescind a driver’s license revocation and his motion to dismiss criminal charges. Appellant argues that the investigative stop of his vehicle for suspected expired license tabs exceeded its permissible duration before the officer asked to see appellant’s driver’s license. Appellant also argues that the officer did not have probable cause to request chemical testing. We affirm the district court’s decision.
In the early hours of October 23, 1999, Alexandria Police Officer Burton Crary observed an “older” pickup truck pulling a “newer” boat and trailer down an Alexandria street. Finding that this “looked out of place,” Crary followed the vehicle and ran a license check on the trailer. The dispatcher reported that the trailer’s registration tabs had expired. Unable to make a visual check of the license tabs because of the darkness, Crary initiated a traffic stop. Upon his approach he also ran a check on the license plate of the truck and learned that it was registered under a different name than the trailer.
After the stop, he could see that the trailer displayed current tabs. However, it was his experience that a vehicle sometimes displays tabs that were issued for another vehicle. Crary proceeded to speak with appellant Larry Cochran, who had exited the truck and met him near the middle of the trailer. Crary asked Cochran for his driver’s license and Cochran admitted that it had been revoked. Crary verified Cochran’s admission and placed him under arrest for the gross misdemeanor driving after cancellation/inimical to public safety under Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 3 and subd. 5 (2000).
After the arrest, Alexandria Police Officer Boyden arrived and commenced an inventory of Cochran’s truck, finding one unopened can of beer in an otherwise empty 12-pack. Crary had not noted any indicia of intoxication during his previous interaction with Cochran. While driving to the Douglas County Law Enforcement Center, Crary detected an odor of alcohol coming from Cochran in the back seat of the squad car. Cochran also became argumentative. Upon arrival at the Law Enforcement Center, Cochran refused Crary’s request to perform field sobriety tests. Crary read Cochran the implied consent advisory and thereafter charged him with the gross misdemeanor of refusal to submit to testing under Minn. Stat. § 169.121, subd. 1(a) and subd. 3(c)(2) (1998).
Following a combined omnibus and implied consent hearing, the district court denied Cochran’s petition to rescind the Commissioner of Public Safety’s order of revocation and denied his motion to dismiss the criminal charges. This appeal followed.
With respect to Cochran’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges, where the district court has credited the testimony of the arresting officer concerning a motor vehicle stop, we will make a legal determination whether that officer’s observations provided an adequate basis for the stop. Berge v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985). With respect to Cochran’s petition to rescind the order of revocation, the district court’s findings are subject to reversal only if they are clearly erroneous. Walek v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 361 N.W.2d 482, 484, 737 (Minn. App. 1985).
Cochran does not dispute that the initial stop was justified, but contends that Officer Crary committed an unreasonable search and seizure by perpetuating the investigation. In order for a search to remain reasonable “[t]he scope of the search must be 'strictly tied to and justified by' the circumstances which rendered its initiation permissible.” State v. Demry, 605 N.W.2d 106, 108 (Minn. App. 2000) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1878 (1968) (quotation omitted)), review denied (Minn. Mar. 28, 2000). The circumstance that made the initiation of the stop permissible in this case was the report from the dispatcher that the tags on the trailer had expired.
Cochran cites State v. Hickman, 491 N.W.2d 673 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Dec. 15, 1992) for support of his argument that once Crary noticed the current registration tabs, his investigation should have ended. The officer in Hickman became suspicious after taking visual notice of the expired tabs, but thereafter noticed a temporary registration permit in the vehicle’s rear window. Id. at 674. He proceeded to ask for the driver’s license anyway. Id. The essential holding in Hickman is that an officer may not seek to inspect a driver’s license once any suspicion about a vehicle’s registration is dispelled. Id. at 675.
In the present case, Crary’s initial suspicion was founded upon the dispatcher’s report—not a visual identification—that the tabs were expired. That suspicion was compounded by his awareness that the truck and trailer were registered to different owners and his knowledge that registration tabs are sometimes transferred to grant the appearance of legitimacy to expired plates. See Berge, 374 N.W.2d at 732 (stating that reasonable suspicion may be the product of inferences and deductions that result from the officer’s training and experience). Under these circumstances, the solitary fact that the trailer displayed current tabs did not dispel Crary’s suspicions. He properly took the investigation one step further by interviewing Cochran, and his request to see Cochran’s driver’s license was an appropriate step in that inquiry. See Cobb v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 410 N.W.2d 902, 903 (Minn. App. 1987) (finding officer had an articulable basis for requesting driver identification). Therefore, the district court properly denied Cochran’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges based upon its finding that Crary had a lawful basis to extend the traffic stop by asking to see Cochran’s license.
Cochran argues that even if the charge of driving after cancellation/inimical to public safety was legally justified, Officer Crary lacked proper grounds to invoke the implied consent provision of Minn. Stat. § 169.123, subd. 2 (1998). The implied consent law should be “liberally construed in favor of protecting the public and given the broadest possible effect.” Johnson v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 366 N.W.2d 347, 350 (Minn. App. 1985) (citation omitted). Probable cause must be evaluated from the point of view of the officer, the officer is permitted to make inferences from the circumstances, and the officer’s experience and judgment are entitled to great deference. Id. An officer’s detection of only one objective indicator of intoxication can constitute probable cause. Holtz v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 340 N.W.2d 363, 365 (Minn. App. 1983). Thus, the odor of alcohol alone, unaccompanied by other indicia of intoxication, may be sufficient to constitute probable cause. Heuton v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 541 N.W.2d 361, 363 (Minn. App. 1995).
The district court credited Crary’s testimony at the implied consent hearing as to the odor of alcohol on Cochran’s breath, the presence of a nearly empty 12-pack of beer in Cochran’s truck, and Crary’s perception that Cochran’s behavior was “inconsistent and argumentative.” Crary’s police report and the implied consent certificate both indicate that he detected an odor of alcohol coming from Cochran. The district court’s decision, that probable cause existed to invoke the implied consent law, was well-supported and not clearly erroneous. Thus, the district court properly denied Cochran’s petition to rescind the order of revocation.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.