This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Erik Edward Spies, petitioner,
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C50111604
Charles A. Ramsey, Rebecca Rhoda Fisher, Ramsay & Devore, P.A., 2151 Hamline Avenue North, Suite 111, Roseville, MN 55113 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Lisa M. Dahlquist, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant Erik Edward Spies challenges the revocation of his driver’s license under Minn. Stat. §§ 169A.51-.53 (2000). Appellant contends that (1) there was insufficient evidence to establish that he was the driver of the vehicle, and (2) the police officer did not have probable cause, including a temporal connection between the driving and appellant’s intoxication, to suspect that appellant had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Because there was sufficient evidence that appellant was the driver of the vehicle and the officer had probable cause to believe that appellant drove the vehicle when he was under the influence of alcohol, we affirm.
On November 2, 2001, at approximately 1:05 a.m., Officer Kim Klawiter received a call from dispatch regarding a rollover accident near the intersection of Highways 694 and 35E. Officer Klawiter arrived at the accident scene roughly two or three minutes later.
Officer Klawiter observed an extensively damaged car on its side approximately 200-250 feet off the ramp connecting westbound Highway 694 with northbound Highway 35E. Officer Klawiter later testified that the area was “fairly well lit” and that the vehicle was “close enough to the road that somebody going by would notice it.” He also stated that, “I would be surprised if [the accident] had occurred too much before we got the call.”
Officer Klawiter inspected the vehicle and the accident scene, specifically looking for anyone who might have been injured. He observed one set of footprints leading from the vehicle through the weeds to the freeway fence. Based on his investigation, Officer Klawiter concluded that only one person was involved in the accident.
At approximately 1:08 a.m., Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputy Kristi Pavek was dispatched to the SuperAmerica station (SA) located at the intersection of Highway 35E and County Road E to assist a person who had been involved in a rollover accident. The SA is about one-half mile from the accident site. When Deputy Pavek arrived at the SA at about 1:13 a.m., she found appellant being assisted by paramedics sitting outside the convenience store. The paramedics told Deputy Pavek that appellant had significant injuries and was intoxicated. Deputy Pavek later testified that in her conversation with appellant, she observed appellant’s bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and smelled the odor of alcohol on his breath. Appellant was also yelling and agitated.
Appellant told Deputy Pavek that he had been at a bar called T-Birds in Maplewood, Minnesota. According to appellant, he met a friend at T-Birds and the accident occurred when the friend was driving him home. Appellant said that he did not know the friend’s name, that he had only met him once before, and that he did not know what happened to the friend after the accident. Appellant stated that he got out of the car after the accident, jumped the freeway fence, and walked to the SA. Deputy Pavek testified that appellant told her that he was “very drunk,” and, based on her observations, that she believed that appellant was the driver of the vehicle. Appellant agreed to take a preliminary breath test at the SA that resulted in an alcohol-concentration reading of .20. The paramedics then took appellant to the hospital.
After leaving the SA, Deputy Pavek drove to the accident scene and encountered Officer Klawiter. Deputy Pavek made her own search of the area but found no evidence to corroborate appellant’s statement that another person had been involved.
After a tow truck left the accident scene with appellant’s vehicle, Officer Klawiter went to the hospital to interview appellant. Appellant told Officer Klawiter that a friend he met at T‑Birds was driving his car when the accident occurred, but that appellant did not know the friend’s name, address, or where his friend had gone after the accident. Officer Klawiter asked appellant what his friend did after the accident. Appellant first responded that his friend had run east with him toward the freeway fence, but later said that his friend may have run west toward the freeway. Officer Klawiter next asked appellant how the accident happened. Appellant first stated that he did not know because he was asleep, but later said that the car hit black ice on the ramp from Highway 694 to Highway 35E, causing the car to roll over. When asked why someone else was driving his car, appellant did not have an answer. Officer Klawiter testified that he believed that appellant was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the accident.
The Commissioner of Public Safety revoked appellant’s driver’s license pursuant to Minn. Stat. §§ 169A.51-.53 (2000) for driving with an alcohol concentration of .20 or more. Appellant sought judicial review of the revocation order, and on January 23, 2002, an implied-consent hearing was held. Appellant did not testify or present any evidence at the hearing. On February 4, 2002, the trial court issued an order sustaining appellant’s license revocation. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
The determination of probable cause is a mixed question of fact and law. Clow v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 362 N.W.2d 360, 363 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Apr. 26, 1985). “After the facts are determined, this court must apply the law to determine if probable cause existed” to invoke the implied-consent law. Groe v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 615 N.W.2d 837, 840 (Minn. App. 2000) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Sept. 13, 2000).
This court does not review probable cause determinations de novo, instead, we determine if the police officer “had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed at the time of invoking the implied consent law.”
Id. (quotation omitted). “A reviewing court must consider the totality of the circumstances when determining probable cause.” Id. (citation omitted).
Probable cause exists where all the facts and circumstances would warrant a cautious person to believe that the suspect was driving or operating a vehicle while under the influence.
Llona v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 389 N.W.2d 210, 212 (Minn. App. 1986) (quotation omitted).
Appellant does not dispute the trial court’s finding that the police officers had probable cause to believe that he was intoxicated. But appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that he was the driver of the vehicle. We will not reverse the district court’s findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Thompson v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 567 N.W.2d 280, 281 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.
When the alleged driver raises the issue of whether he was actually driving, the Commissioner must prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence that he was the driver.
Llona, 389 N.W.2d. at 212 (citation omitted).
Appellant contends that the officers did not have probable cause to believe that he was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident because there was no direct evidence of that fact. Neither officer saw him driving the vehicle, and there were no witnesses. Appellant argues that neither officer conducted a detailed search of the accident area and that the actual driver was probably walking in the vicinity after the accident.
This court shows great deference to the fact-finder’s determination of witness credibility. State v. Dickerson, 481 N.W.2d 840, 843 (Minn. 1992), aff’d, 508 U.S. 366, 113 S. Ct. 2130 (1993). Here, the trial court found that appellant was not credible because his version of events repeatedly changed and was not supported by the physical evidence at the accident scene. Officer Klawiter found only one path of footprints leading away from the accident scene and that path led to the SA that appellant walked to after the accident. Further, neither officer was able to find any evidence of appellant’s alleged friend at the scene or in their searches of the surrounding area. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the trial court properly concluded that the officers had probable cause to believe that appellant was the driver of the vehicle.
Appellant also asserts that the evidence failed to establish a temporal connection between the time appellant allegedly drove his vehicle and the time of his intoxication. To establish probable cause that a suspect was driving a vehicle while intoxicated there must be a sufficient temporal connection between the driver’s intoxication and the driver’s operation of the motor vehicle. See Dietrich v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 363 N.W.2d 801, 803 (Minn. App. 1985).
Where there is no evidence whatsoever connecting the time of driving with the time of an officer’s observations, the officer’s proof of probable cause is inadequate.
Hedstrom v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 410 N.W.2d 47, 49 (Minn. App. 1987) (citations omitted). “An officer is not required to know the exact time an accident occurred to make a valid arrest for driving while under the influence.” Delong v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 386 N.W.2d 296, 298 (Minn. App. 1986) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. June 13, 1986). “However, there must be a time frame established showing a connection between drinking and driving.” Id. (citation omitted). The time frame may be established by circumstantial evidence. Cf. Eggersgluss v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 393 N.W.2d 183, 185 (Minn. 1986).
Appellant contends that there was an insufficient temporal connection here because the specific facts are unknown as to what time the accident occurred, who reported it, how long appellant remained at the scene, or how long it took appellant to walk to the SA. In support of his argument, appellant relies on this court’s decision in Dietrich v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 363 N.W.2d 801 (Minn. App. 1985). In Dietrich, the suspect hit a parked trailer. Id. at 802. When police arrived at the scene, they were told that the suspect had been picked up and driven home. Id. Police then talked to the suspect at his home and concluded that he displayed signs of intoxication. Id. The officer who administered the implied-consent advisory testified only that he was on duty on the night at issue, and gave the advisory to the suspect a little over an hour after the time he started his shift. Id. This court held that “the evidence does not establish the necessary connection between the two events” and stated the following:
The time when [the officer] was on duty, however, does not establish when the accident occurred or when [the officer] believed [the suspect] to have been driving. The fact that [the suspect] was involved in an accident and was later found to be under the influence established a sequence of events but provides no time frame for the sequence. The presence of people near the car when [the officer] arrived suggests proximity in time, but this inference is not sufficient to establish the necessary temporal connection.
Id. at 803. Appellant asserts that this case is analogous in that the evidence failed to provide a time frame for the sequence of events. Therefore, there is no temporal connection.
But, in Graham v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 809, 811 (Minn. App. 1985), this court distinguished its holding in Dietrich and stated that “Dietrich does not establish a rule of law that the officer must explicitly testify as to the time of an accident.” The officer in Graham found a vehicle in a ditch and, based on information received from a witness, located the suspect at a nearby gas station. Id. at 810. This court held that the trial court erred in finding that there was a lack of a temporal connection based solely on the officer’s inability to pinpoint how long the suspect’s vehicle had been in the ditch, because the officer could infer from the circumstances that the suspect had recently left the vehicle. Id. at 811; see also Delong, 386 N.W.2d at 298 (finding a sufficient temporal connection where an officer was dispatched to a vehicle stuck in the median of a highway and the owner demonstrated signs of intoxication), review denied (Minn. June 13, 1986); Holland v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 385 N.W.2d 413, 414-15 (Minn. App. 1986) (finding a sufficient temporal connection where an officer was on his way to investigate a report of a vehicle in the median when he found the driver standing in the middle of the highway one-half mile from the vehicle and the driver exhibited signs of intoxication), review denied (Minn. June 19, 1986); Hasbrook v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 592, 594 (Minn. App. 1985) (finding a sufficient temporal connection where an officer found a vehicle abandoned in a ditch and located the suspect at a nearby gas station and the suspect admitted to driving into the ditch and the officer noticed signs of intoxication).
Here, unlike Dietrich, the evidence was sufficient to establish a temporal connection between the time appellant was driving the vehicle and his intoxication. Klawiter testified that it was unlikely that the accident occurred too long before it was reported because the vehicle was found in a well-lighted location that was visible from two interstate highways. Appellant told officers that he walked to an SA one-half mile from the accident scene. There was no evidence that the appellant stayed at the scene for any significant period of time or that he consumed additional alcohol after the accident. Based on the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the district court properly determined that the officers had probable cause, including a temporal connection between appellant’s driving and his intoxication, to suspect that appellant drove under the influence of alcohol.