This opinion will be unpublished and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
Ramsey County District Court
File No. KX011635
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 500, 525 Park Street, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark Nathan Lystig, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 315, Ramsey County Government Center West, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota Public Defender, Jodie L. Carlson, Assistant Public Defender, Suite 425, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Wright, Judge.
Appellant Todd Jeffrey Askerooth challenges his conviction of controlled substance crime in the fifth degree, arguing that he was illegally seized when he was placed in the back seat of a squad car during a traffic stop, and that drugs found in the squad car after he was released should have been suppressed as fruit of an illegal seizure. We affirm.
St. Paul Police Officer Schmidt, alone on routine patrol, observed a van run a stop sign at 12:40 a.m. Officer Schmidt stopped the van, which was driven by appellant Todd Jeffrey Askerooth, the only occupant of the van. Askerooth did not have a driver’s license or identification in his possession. Officer Smith had Askerooth step out of the van, patted him down for weapons, and placed him in the back seat of the squad car. Officer Schmidt testified that it is standard procedure for St. Paul police officers to put individuals who are driving without a license in the back seat of the squad car while the officer checks the person’s identity, to facilitate questioning and ensure officer safety.
Askerooth gave Officer Schmidt his name, address, and date of birth. A computer check revealed that Askerooth’s driver’s license was revoked. Officer Schmidt then asked Askerooth for permission to search the van and Askerooth consented. No contraband was found in the van. Backup officers appeared while Askerooth was still in the back of the squad car. After searching the van, Officer Schmidt gave Askerooth a citation for the stop sign violation and for driving after revocation, and allowed him to leave the legally parked van to walk home. As Askerooth left, Officer Schmidt searched the back of the squad car, as he does after having placed anyone in the squad car, and discovered a black film canister that held two baggies of methamphetamine. Askerooth later told officers that he hid the canister in the squad car because he was scared.
Askerooth was charged with controlled substance crime in the fifth degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2000). Askerooth moved to suppress evidence of the canister on the basis that his placement in the back of the squad car was an unconstitutional seizure, making the canister the fruit of an illegal seizure that should be suppressed.
At the omnibus hearing, Officer Schmidt testified that Askerooth was cooperative and did nothing to arouse his suspicion or lead him to believe that he was dangerous. The motion to suppress was denied. Askerooth waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to a court trial on stipulated facts pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. Rule 26.01, subd. 3.
Askerooth was found guilty and was sentenced to one year and one day, stayed on various conditions of probation. This appeal followed.
When reviewing pretrial orders on motions to suppress evidence, this court may review the facts of the case independently to determine whether the district court erred as a matter of law by not suppressing the evidence as a matter of law. State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1990).
For Fourth amendment purposes,
A person has been seized * * * when an officer requests that person to leave his or her vehicle and sit in the officer’s squad car.
State v. Lipinski, 419 N.W.2d 651, 652 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Mar. 23, 1988) (citation omitted).
The supreme court has declined to adopt a blanket rule that allows officers to require lawfully stopped citizens to sit in the back of squad cars and has held that
[t]he inability of a minor traffic violator to produce a driver’s license in and of itself is not a reasonable basis to require the driver to sit in the back of a squad car.
State v. Varnado, 582 N.W.2d 886, 891 (Minn. 1998). Askerooth relies on Varnado to assert that he was illegally seized when he was asked to sit in the back of the squad car. Varnado, however, does not hold that there is never a reasonable basis to require any minor traffic violator to sit in the squad car. Id. at 891 (recognizing that aside from having probable cause for a search, there may be ‘alternative factors’ that provide a reasonable basis for requiring a driver to wait in the squad car).
An officer may order the driver of a legally stopped vehicle to get out of the vehicle without violating the Fourth Amendment. Varnado, 582 N.W.2d at 891 (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S. Ct. 330, n. 6 (1977)). Varnado recognizes that officer safety is a paramount interest, but prohibits placement in the squad car merely “to contravene the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment simply by requesting that a person sit in the squad car.” Id. at 891-2. The police department’s policy of having all traffic violators sit in the back of the squad car does not justify Askerooth’s placement in the squad car. Nonetheless, under the circumstances here, we conclude that it was reasonable for Officer Schmidt, who was alone at the scene of an early-morning traffic stop, to have Askerooth sit in the back of the squad car while Schmidt checked on his identity and the status of his license. This was a practical way for Officer Schmidt to effectively accomplish the lawful task of detaining Askerooth for the time permitted to run the check and issue the tickets. Askerooth does not assert, and no evidence suggests, that the officer made the request merely to facilitate an otherwise impermissible search. Because, under the facts of this case, Askerooth was not illegally seized when he was placed in the back of the squad car, the drugs he abandoned in the squad car are not the fruit of an illegal seizure and the district court did not err by denying the motion to suppress.
 Askerooth does not argue that consent to search his van was not voluntarily given or that he was illegally detained longer than was necessary to process his traffic violations, so we do not address those issues.