This opinion will be unpublished and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
Joseph Robert Ross,
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C9029283
Derek A. Patrin, Gerald Miller & Associates, P.A., 210 North Second Street, Suite 101, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (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 Minge, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant challenges the revocation of his driver’s license under the implied-consent law, Minn. Stat. § 169A.50-.53 (2002). Appellant contends that the officer did not have a legal basis for stopping him and that the district court’s findings of fact on the issue are clearly erroneous. We affirm.
In the early morning hours of September 12, 2002, police officer Drew Evans was on routine patrol in a marked squad car. Officer Evans observed an oncoming vehicle, which was being operated by appellant Joseph Robert Ross. As appellant’s vehicle passed Officer Evans’s car, Officer Evans observed, from his mirrors, that appellant’s vehicle did not appear to have working taillights. Officer Evans turned his squad car around to catch up with appellant’s vehicle and activated his overhead emergency lights along with his spot light. When he was behind appellant, Officer Evans noticed that the vehicle’s brake lights were working but that the taillights still did not appear to be functioning. Officer Evans questioned appellant and arrested him for driving while impaired. Appellant’s driving privileges were revoked under the implied-consent law.
At the implied-consent hearing, appellant argued that his taillights were functioning the night of his arrest and that therefore, Officer Evans did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify stopping appellant’s vehicle. Appellant introduced a videotape of the incident, which was obtained from the video camera in Officer Evans’s squad car. Officer Evans testified that any appearance in the video that the taillights were functioning is a result of flashing squad lights and spotlights reflecting off the rear of appellant’s vehicle.
The district court sustained the revocation of appellant’s driving privileges. The district court found that
[t]he videotaped recording of the incident does not permit the Court to determine whether [appellant’s] vehicle did or did not have operating running taillights on the date of the incident because the squad car’s flashing lights and spotlight reflect directly on the rear portion of [appellant’s] vehicle.
Appellant challenges the district court’s finding, arguing that the finding is clearly erroneous, and that therefore the legal conclusion that the officer had a “reasonable, articulable and sufficient basis” to stop appellant’s vehicle is error.
This court does not set aside a district court’s findings of fact unless those findings are clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Thompson v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 567 N.W.2d 280, 281 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997). “Conclusions of law will be overturned only upon a determination that the trial court has erroneously construed and applied the law to the facts of the case.” Dehn v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 394 N.W.2d 272, 273 (Minn. App. 1986) (citation omitted).
Appellant claims that his taillights worked and that there was no basis for the investigatory stop. A limited investigative stop is lawful if there is “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” State v. Smallwood, 594 N.W.2d 144, 155 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted). “[I]f an officer observes a violation of a traffic law, however insignificant, the officer has an objective basis for stopping the vehicle.” State v. Battleson, 567 N.W.2d 69, 71 (Minn. App. 1997) (quotation omitted); see also State v. Kittridge, 613 N.W.2d 771, 773 (Minn. App. 2000) (finding that although there was a current “In Transit” plate on the rear plate, expired tabs in front constituted a lawful stop under the implied-consent law), review denied (Minn. Sept. 13, 2000). Minnesota law requires every motor vehicle to have operable taillights. Minn. Stat. § 169.50 (2002).
Here, the district court found that the videotape does not depict whether appellant’s taillights were functioning at the time of the stop. The videotape shows that at the time of the stop, the rear of appellant’s car was illuminated. The videotape also shows that reflective road signs near appellant’s vehicle were illuminated. Just as the illumination of the surrounding road signs was a result of the officer’s flashing squad lights, so too, it appears, was the illumination of the rear of appellant’s vehicle. The videotape does not clearly show operating taillights on appellant’s vehicle. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court’s finding was not clearly erroneous.
Absent the videotape, the only evidence offered at the implied-consent hearing was the testimony of Officer Evans. Officer Evans testified that appellant’s taillights were not functioning. Aside from the ambiguous videotape, appellant offered no evidence to contradict Officer Evans’s testimony. The district court’s factual finding that Officer Evans’s testimony was credible is not clearly erroneous.
Officer Evans observed that appellant’s vehicle did not have operable taillights, which is a violation of a traffic law. No clear evidence contradicted the officer. Thus, we conclude that the district court did not err by determining that the officer had a “reasonable, articulable and sufficient basis” for stopping appellant’s vehicle.