may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
Michael Allen Gunderson,
File No. K800519
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, James B. Early, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Jeffrey R. Edblad, Isanti County Attorney, Isanti County Courthouse, 555 17th Avenue Southwest, Cambridge, MN 55008 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Marie Wolf, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from a conviction of fifth-degree controlled-substance offense, appellant Michael Allen Gunderson argues that the search of the car he was driving was not a valid search incident to arrest because the officers who arrested him did not have authority to make an arrest after observing misdemeanor traffic offenses. We affirm.
Police Officer Steven Rudolph and Deputy Sheriff Robert Bowker were talking to each other when they saw Gunderson make a U-turn in his car. Bowker told Rudolph that Gunderson had not signaled the turn, and they both decided to follow Gunderson. Neither officer turned on his emergency lights. Gunderson traveled 40 miles per hour or faster in zones posted for 30 and then 25 miles per hour.
Gunderson made two turns before parking the car in front of a residence. He and his passenger got out and started walking toward the residence. Bowker recognized Gunderson and knew that his driver’s license had been suspended in the past. Bowker asked Gunderson if he had a driver’s license yet. Gunderson said that he did not. Bowker also knew of a recent warrant for Gunderson’s arrest. Bowker placed Gunderson in handcuffs and ran a check to determine the status of his license and whether there was an outstanding warrant. There was no outstanding warrant, but his license was suspended. After Gunderson was arrested, Rudolph stood at the back of a squad car with Gunderson while Bowker approached the car Gunderson was driving.
Without opening a door, Bowker looked inside the car and saw two marijuana pipes in the ashtray. Bowker then opened the car door to get the pipes, and he saw beneath the armrest a small plastic baggy that contained four white rocks. Bowker suspected that the rocks were methamphetamine, and tests confirmed that they were.
Gunderson was charged with fifth-degree controlled-substance offense and driving after suspension. He moved to suppress the methamphetamine, arguing that the search of the car was illegal, and his motion was denied. He then proceeded to trial on stipulated facts pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980), and was convicted of both offenses. He was sentenced only on the controlled-substance offense.
When reviewing pretrial orders on motions to suppress evidence, we may independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in suppressing—or not suppressing—the evidence.
State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted).
Gunderson argues that when he was arrested, there was only a basis to believe that he had committed misdemeanor traffic offenses, and pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 6.01, subd. 1(1)(a), the officers should have issued him a citation rather than arresting him. Therefore, Gunderson contends, there was not a lawful arrest, and the district court incorrectly determined that the search of the car was a search incident to a lawful arrest.
But the district court did not base its denial of Gunderson’s motion to suppress the methamphetamine solely on its conclusion that the officers had a reasonable basis to arrest Gunderson for the misdemeanor offenses that they observed. The district court also concluded that the methamphetamine was admissible under the supreme court’s decision in State v. Vohnoutka, 292 N.W.2d 756 (Minn. 1980). Gunderson does not address this alternative basis for the denial of his suppression motion.
police officers saw the driver of a motor vehicle shut off the lights of the car and drive it into the parking lot of a visibly closed service station. The officers drove behind the car, which was stopped, and defendant got out and approached the officers. While one officer asked defendant if there was anything wrong (defendant said that there wasn’t), the other officer routinely walked up to defendant’s car and shined his flashlight through the window into the passenger compartment to see if there was anyone in the car. When he did so, the officer observed suspected marijuana in open view. A subsequent search of the car resulted in the discovery of marijuana and hashish, * * * .
Id. at 757. The supreme court concluded that
defendant had already stopped his car and the officers approached him for a legitimate reason. * * * [T]here was no temporary seizure of the car and the officer clearly had a right to be where he was when he looked through the window into the passenger compartment.
What the officer saw gave him probable cause to believe that a search of the car would result in the discovery of marijuana. Under the motor-vehicle exception to the warrant requirement, the officer, armed as he was with probable cause, had a right to enter the car, seize the marijuana and search for more.
As in Vohnoutka, Gunderson stopped his car, police did not stop him, and Gunderson does not claim that police did not have a legitimate reason for approaching him. Therefore, even if the officers should have issued Gunderson a citation rather than arresting him, Bowker had a right to be where he was when he looked through the car window and saw the marijuana pipes. What Bowker saw gave him probable cause to enter the car, seize the pipes, and search the car. The car was not searched incident to Gunderson’s arrest; Bowker searched the car because of what he saw in plain view when he looked through the car window. The district court did not err by not suppressing the methamphetamine seized during Bowker’s search of the car.