This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Joe Darrell Edwards Jr.,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 00053775
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 500, 525 Park Street, St. Paul, MN 55103-2106; and
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent).
Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant State Public Defender, Suite 600, 2829 University Avenue S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant).
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
On appeal from his conviction as a felon in possession of a firearm, Joe Edwards Jr. challenges the constitutionality of the police investigatory stop that resulted in the seizure of the firearm. Because the police had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Edwards was engaged in illegal conduct, the investigatory stop was constitutional. We affirm.
F A C T S
At the pretrial Rasmussen hearing on Joe Edwards’s motion to exclude the firearm, a gun, from evidence, Officer Lawrence Loonsfoot testified that on June 3, 2000, he saw Edwards flag down a car about 10:40 p.m. at the intersection of 36th and 12th Avenue. Loonsfoot and Officer Christopher Carlson were patrolling the high-drug-trafficking area near this intersection in South Minneapolis. As the flagged-down car came to a stop, Edwards leaned into the open window and spoke to one of the car’s occupants.
Loonsfoot, who had worked as an undercover narcotics officer during one of his seven years with the Minneapolis Police Department, suspected that Edwards was dealing narcotics. Loonsfoot testified that narcotics transactions typically involve a person flagging down a vehicle, approaching and leaning into the vehicle, and then selling or purchasing narcotics.
When Edwards saw Loonsfoot and Carlson, he jerked or pulled away from the car and grabbed into the waistband of his pants. Carlson yelled to Edwards, and Edwards began to run. Carlson pursued Edwards on foot through the South Minneapolis neighborhood. As Edwards jumped over a gate in one of the backyards they ran through, Carlson saw Edwards drop something. After Carlson apprehended and handcuffed Edwards, he returned to the area near the gate and found a firearm.
At the conclusion of the Rasmussen hearing, the district court found that (1) Edwards was in a high-drug-trafficking area at approximately 10:30 p.m.; (2) Edwards flagged down a car and leaned into the car’s open window; (3) Edwards “jerked or pulled back” from the car upon seeing the police officers; (4) Edwards appeared to be holding on to something in the waistband of his pants; and (5) Edwards began to run when Carlson yelled to him.
The court denied Edwards’s motion to exclude the gun from evidence, reasoning that, at the time Carlson seized Edwards by yelling to him, Carlson and Loonsfoot had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Edwards was involved in illegal activity. Following a trial at which a jury found that Edwards illegally possessed a firearm, Edwards brought this appeal.
D E C I S I O N
Under Minnesota law a person is “seized” within the meaning of the constitution if, under all the circumstances, a reasonable person would believe that because of the police conduct he was not free to leave. In re E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 783 (Minn. 1983). Neither Edwards nor the state disputes that a seizure occurred at the point Officer Loonsfoot yelled to Edwards at the intersection. And, on appeal, neither disputes the district court’s factual findings on the events that preceded Loonsfoot’s yelling at Edwards. When the facts are not in dispute, this court determines de novo whether the officer had an adequate basis for an investigatory stop within the strictures of the Fourth Amendment and whether evidence must be suppressed as the fruit of an illegal seizure. State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. 2000); State v. Outhoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992);
The legality of an investigatory stop depends on whether the state is able to show that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion for the stop. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999). The factual basis required to justify an investigatory stop is “minimal,” but the stop must be based on more than mere whim, caprice, or curiosity. Marben v. Dept. of Pub. Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Minn. 1980). A reviewing court defers to a police officer’s training and experience and examines the facts from the perspective of a police officer who is familiar with “modes or patterns of operation of certain kinds of lawbreakers.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418, 101 S. Ct. 690, 695 (1981); Thomeczek v. Commr. of Pub. Safety, 364 N.W.2d 471, 472 (Minn. App. 1985).
A defendant’s presence in a high-drug-trafficking area is, alone, insufficient to constitute a reasonable, articulable suspicion of illegal activity. State v. Dickerson, 481 N.W.2d 840, 843 (Minn. 1992). But presence in a high-drug-trafficking area combined with other factors has been upheld as sufficient to arouse a reasonable, articulable suspicion. Compare Dickerson (concluding that investigatory stop constitutional when defendant present in high-drug-trafficking area, departs from building known to police officers to have history of drug activity, and exhibits evasive conduct after making eye contact with the police officers) with E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d at 780 (concluding that investigatory stop unconstitutional when defendant in high-drug-trafficking area sees police walking toward him and begins walking away, looking back over his shoulder) and State v. Ellington, 495 N.W.2d 915, 917-919 (Neb. 1993) (concluding that police did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion for stopping defendant who was leaning into vehicle in high-drug-trafficking area and upon noticing police, walked away from the vehicle).
The district court found, that in addition to Edwards’s presence in a high drug-trafficking area, several other facts were significant in determining whether police had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of illegal activity. First, while within the area at about 10:40 p.m., Edwards flagged down a car, leaned into the car, and spoke with the occupants. Loonsfoot, who had a year of undercover narcotics experience, testified that drug transactions typically involve someone waving a vehicle over, approaching the vehicle, and then engaging in a narcotics transaction. Edwards’s actions comported with this pattern. See Cortez, 449 U.S. at 418, 101 S.Ct. at 695 (according deference to police officers who are familiar with “modes or patterns of operation” of lawbreakers).
Second, immediately after noticing the police officers, Edwards jerked back from the vehicle and grabbed into his waistband. See Dickerson, 481 N.W.2d at 842 (relying, in part, on defendant’s evasive conduct after noticing presence of police); Ellington, 495 N.W.2d at 919 (listing defendant's attempt to conceal object after seeing police as factor that would support reasonable, articulable suspicion). The jerking back suggests that Edwards was terminating his contact with the car’s occupants because he noticed the police. Edwards grabbing into his waistband after seeing the police suggests that Edwards was attempting to conceal something and gives support to a suspicion that a drug transaction was occurring.
Edwards’s presence in a high-drug-trafficking area, his actions that parallel illegal drug dealing (flagging down a car at 10:40 p.m. and leaning into the car to talk to the occupants), and his conduct after noticing the police (jerking or pulling back from the car and grabbing into his waistband) are more than sufficient to constitute a reasonable, articulable suspicion for stopping Edwards. The district court properly denied Edwards’s motion to exclude the gun from evidence.