This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
State of Minnesota,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 00-070109
Mike Hatch, Minnesota Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City Attorney, Christopher J. Dixon, Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney, 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Appellant)
Robert M. Paule, 3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Suite 309B, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
On appeal from a pretrial suppression order concluding that the stop of respondent for speeding was pretextual, appellant argues that the officer's estimate that respondent was going 20 miles an hour above the speed limit provided objective facts supporting the stop, making the officer's subjective motivation irrelevant. We affirm.
At approximately 11:50 p.m., July 23, 2000, Ephriam Spraggins and Thomas Derden, two African-American men, went to a club to watch a friend play guitar with a band. While returning home from the club, Spraggins was driving Derden’s white minivan westbound on East Lake Street in south Minneapolis when the two were pulled over by Minneapolis Police Sergeant Warren Whitman, who was accompanied by a St. Paul police officer not identified in the record.
Whitman testified that he asked Spraggins if he knew why he had been stopped, to which Spraggins responded “No.” Whitman then asked Spraggins if he knew how fast he was driving, to which the respondent replied, “30-35 miles per hour at the most.” During this time at least two other squad cars and four other officers arrived as backup. Smelling alcohol on Spraggins breath, Whitman asked Spraggins and Derden to get out of the car. After some of the officers performed field sobriety tests, Spraggins was arrested and charged under several provisions of Minn. Stat. § 169.121 (2000).
Spraggins filed a motion to suppress all evidence and to dismiss the case. At the Rasmussen hearing, Whitman testified that he was travelling on 21stAvenue South when he observed the minivan traveling at a speed he estimated to be 50 miles per hour on Lake Street through the 21st Avenue intersection. He then followed the minivan for eight blocks, observing no other traffic or equipment violations, and then pulled Spraggins over at Bloomington Avenue.
Both Derden and Spraggins testified that they had each consumed only two drinks at the club and that Spraggins had not exceeded the speed limit while driving on Lake Street. They testified that speeding was essentially impossible because the minivan was incapable of rapid acceleration and because they stopped at every traffic light from 21st Avenue until they were pulled over. They remembered hitting all of the stoplights because, at the 21st Avenue light, Derden prophesied that it would happen.
The district court granted Spraggins’s motion to suppress all evidence of the stop and to dismiss the case. The court stated that, after considering the evidence, the court was,
not convinced that the basis for the stop was speeding fifty miles an hour or thereabouts, anywhere near there, at 21st and Lake Street. I believe that the stop was a pretext to explore whether or not it was possible that [Spraggins] was driving * * * while drinking.
When the state appeals from a pretrial order dismissing a criminal charge, this court will reverse only if the state clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that the district court erred and that the error, unless reversed, will have a critical impact on the outcome of the prosecution. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992) (citations omitted). There is no question that the order has had a critical impact upon the case. Upon independent review of the facts, this court determines whether the district court’s order was in error as a matter of law. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999) (citations omitted).
The state characterizes the district court’s decision as being entirely based upon its determination that the stop was pretextual and argues that a stop is lawful, even if based on improper motives, if there is a legitimate basis for it. See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813, 116 S. Ct. 1769, 1774 (1996); State v. Everett,472 N.W.2d 864, 867 (Minn. 1991). But the district court also expressed its disbelief that Spraggins had been going anywhere near fifty miles per hour and discounted the possibility that Spraggins’s speed was even partially a reason for stopping the vehicle. Such a finding of fact is subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review. State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 135 (Minn. 1999).
Spraggins’ testimony, inconsistent with Whitman’s allegation that Spraggins was speeding, was consistent with Derden’s testimony. The court simply did not believe Whitman’s testimony. There is no evidence that the court’s finding was clearly erroneous.