This opinion will be unpublished and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,
Samuel K. Dougherty,
Pope County District Court
File No. T2001299
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Bruce D. Obenland, Glenwood City Attorney, Chad M. Larson, Assistant City Attorney, 605 South Lakeshore Drive, Suite 1000, Glenwood, MN 56334 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Scott G. Swanson, Jodie L. Carlson, Assistant Public Defenders, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*
Appellant Samuel K. Dougherty appeals his conviction of refusing to submit to a chemical test of his blood under former Minn. Stat. § 169.121, subd. 1a (1998), on the ground that a corroborated tip of an underage drinking party did not provide a reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop his car as he left the site of the party. Because we conclude that the facts created a reasonable, articulable suspicion, we affirm.
On May 16, 2000, at approximately 11:00 p.m., Pope County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Hedner received a tip from a citizen he knew to be reliable that there was an underage drinking party going on at Lake Marlou in rural Pope County. To corroborate the tip, Deputy Hedner drove to a location across the lake from the site. From there, he observed a large number of car lights and heard sounds consistent with a large gathering of people. Deputy Hedner then drove to a private field road that intersected a township road, which appeared to be the only access to the party’s location. The entrance gate to the field road had a “No Trespassing” sign posted on it, but no complaints of trespassing had been made.
As the deputy approached the field road, he saw a pick-up truck leaving the party site, weaving down the road. He stopped the vehicle and discovered that the two occupants were both under 21 years old and had been drinking. When questioned, both admitted that there were other underage drinkers at the party. Deputy Hedner radioed for additional help, and Lowry police officer Tim Riley and Glenwood police officer Dale Danter arrived soon thereafter.
As Officer Riley started walking down the field road in the direction of the party, he saw the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. He radioed Officer Danter to stop the vehicle because he assumed it was leaving the suspected underage drinking party. Officer Danter stopped the vehicle, identified appellant as the driver, and detected alcohol on his breath. Appellant refused to take a breath test. He was subsequently charged with misdemeanor test refusal.
Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence and dismiss the charges on the basis that the stop was illegal and, therefore, any evidence gained thereby was tainted. The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the officers possessed enough information to form a reasonable, articulable basis to stop appellant’s vehicle. The parties stipulated to the facts and submitted the case to the trial court pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980). Appellant was found guilty of refusal to submit to testing under former Minn. Stat. § 169.121, subd. 1a (1998), but not guilty of minor consumption under Minn. Stat. § 340A.503 (1998). This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
When reviewing search and seizure rulings based on undisputed evidence, this court independently applies the law to the facts. Berge v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985).
A police officer is allowed to make a limited investigatory stop when the officer can “point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968). When reviewing the propriety of a stop, an appellate court examines the totality of the circumstances to determine whether there was a sufficient basis to justify the stop. State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. 2000). But the factual basis required to justify a stop is limited; “[a]ll that is required is that the stop be not the product of mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity.” Marben v. State, Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Minn. 1980) (quoting People v. Ingle, 330 N.E.2d 39, 44 (N.Y. 1975)). Therefore, courts should view the facts with a common sense approach. Illinois v. Wadlow, 528 U.S. 119, 125, 120 S. Ct. 673, 676 (2000).
Appellant argues that there was no reasonable basis to stop his vehicle because the police did not know his age before questioning him and, therefore, could not have reasonably suspected him of underage drinking. Appellant also contends that the mere fact that he was leaving the area of an underage drinking party is an insufficient basis to suspect him of criminal activity. Appellant is correct that mere proximity to others suspected of criminal activity, without more, may be insufficient to create reasonable suspicion for a stop. State v. Ingram, 570 N.W.2d 173, 177 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Dec. 22, 1997). But a sufficient basis may be found where additional facts sharpen or focus that suspicion.
Here, appellant was not stopped simply because he was leaving the area of reported underage drinking. In response to the reliable citizen’s tip, the police investigated by confirming that a group of people were at the reported location. The first vehicle the officer encountered leaving the site was weaving down the road. When that vehicle was stopped, the officer found that the occupants had been drinking and were underage. Those individuals confirmed that others at the party were also underage. The appellant’s vehicle was stopped on a private, field road — the only road connecting the township road to the remote, rural party site.
On these facts, it cannot be said that appellant was simply a member of the general public who happened to be passing by. The totality of the circumstances was sufficient to support a reasonable, articulable suspicion that appellant, too, was an underage drinker. Therefore, appellant’s stop was valid.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.