This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).







State of Minnesota,





Christopher Michael Wold,




Filed July 6, 2004

Affirmed; motion granted
Klaphake, Judge


Aitkin County District Court

File No. K0-03-344


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101-2134; and


Thomas F. Murtha, Aitkin County Attorney, Lisa Roggenkamp Rakotz, Senior Assistant County Attorney, 217 Second Street N.W., Aitkin, MN  56431 (for appellant)


Dennis M. Lothspeich, 402 Front Street, P.O. Box 552, Brainerd, MN  56401 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            The State of Minnesota appeals from a pretrial order suppressing evidence of intoxication and dismissing charges of third-degree driving while intoxicated and underage drinking against respondent Christopher Michael Wold.  The district court ruled that the state trooper lacked articulable suspicion to stop respondent’s vehicle based upon the trooper’s belief that respondent violated the law when he failed to dim his headlights within 1,000 feet of the squad car and that his exhaust was loud.

            Because the trooper was mistaken in his interpretation of the law and because respondent offered testimony to establish that he in fact did not violate any traffic or equipment laws, the district court did not err in determining that the trooper lacked a reasonable, objective basis to stop respondent.  We therefore affirm the district court’s suppression order.


            “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 . . . the evidence.”  State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999).

            A stop is lawful under the Fourth Amendment if an officer can articulate a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular persons stopped of criminal activity.”  Berge v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985) (quotation & emphasis omitted).  “Ordinarily, if an officer observes a violation of a traffic law, however insignificant, the officer has an objective basis for stopping the vehicle.”  State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997).  But an officer’s mistake as to what conduct constitutes a violation of law is insufficient to justify a stop.  Id. at 578-79 (stop unlawful when trooper was mistaken in belief that headlight configuration on defendant’s motorcycle was illegal and when defendant offered evidence to prove that his headlight configuration did not violate equipment laws).[1]  Because law enforcement officers are charged with knowledge of the law, a mistake of law on their part is generally unreasonable.  See Doctor v. State, 596 So.2d 442, 447 (Fla. 1992) (holding no reasonable suspicion of “defective taillight,” where reflector only cracked, which is not violation); People v. Teresinski, 605 P.2d 874, 877 (Cal. 1980) (holding stop not lawful, where curfew statute only prohibited juveniles from engaging in “loitering” or “idling” on streets after 10 p.m., not blanket curfew as officer believed), vacated on other grounds, 449 U.S. 914, 101 S. Ct. 311 (1980).

            Here, the trooper stopped respondent’s vehicle based on his belief that respondent violated two statutes.  The first, Minn. Stat. § 169.61(b) (2002), provides:  “When the driver of a vehicle approaches a vehicle within 1,000 feet, such driver shall use a distribution of light, or composite beam, so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver.”  The trooper testified that respondent violated this statute because he failed to dim his headlights until he was within 300 to 500 feet of the trooper’s oncoming vehicle.

            However, the trooper did not testify that respondent’s headlights were glaring or otherwise projecting into his eyes.  Indeed, the trooper’s own testimony suggests that he merely observed the glow of respondent’s headlights in the distance, as the vehicles were traveling along a curving highway and as the trooper was coming up over a hill, and that respondent’s headlights were not even directed at him until the vehicles were within 300 to 500 feet of each other, at which point respondent dimmed his headlights.  Respondent confirmed that due to the lights from the city as he was approaching it, he did not even see the trooper’s headlights until the trooper crested a hill, at which point respondent testified that he immediately dimmed his headlights.  Because the trooper was mistaken in his belief that respondent violated the law merely because he failed to dim his headlights within 300 to 500 feet of the trooper’s oncoming vehicle, the trooper lacked an objective basis to stop respondent’s vehicle.

            The trooper’s second reason for stopping respondent’s vehicle is based on Minn. Stat. § 169.69 (2002), which states in pertinent part:

            Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order which blends the exhaust noise into the overall vehicle noise and is in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise, and no person shall use a muffler cutout, bypass, or similar device upon a motor vehicle on a street or highway.  The exhaust system shall not emit or produce a sharp popping or crackling sound.

The trooper testified that he believed respondent violated the law because the exhaust on his vehicle was “loud” or “louder than a non-modified system.”  Respondent, however, testified that his muffler was in working order, that the system was installed by an auto center, that the exhaust noise blended into the overall vehicle noise, and that the system was much quieter than a vehicle with no muffler.  The district court, acting as fact finder, apparently judged this testimony to be credible and its findings are not clearly erroneous.  See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.  Given these findings, we conclude that the trooper was mistaken in his belief that respondent violated the equipment laws.  See State v. Bender 381 N.W.2d 896, 897-98 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding that officer failed to articulate reasonable basis for stopping vehicle, where officer merely stated that, in his subjective opinion, vehicle made “excessive noise”).

            The state cites a number of cases that upheld stops based, at least in part, on headlight violations or on noisy exhaust systems.  See, e.g., State v. Faber, 343 N.W.2d 659, 660 (Minn. 1984) (upholding stop for “headlights violation,” but failing to set out facts surrounding stop or to specify exactly what statute was violated); Holm v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 416 N.W.2d 473, 474 (Minn. App. 1987) (upholding stop where officers testified that defendant was driving with high beams on, did not dim them for oncoming traffic, and was drifting toward right side of road where vehicles normally park); State v. Clark, 394 N.W.2d 570, 571 (Minn. App. 1986) (upholding stop where vehicle was loud and did not appear to have muffler, license plate was obliterated by snow, and defendant looked in officer’s direction with blank, drunken stare); State v. Pierce, 347 N.W.2d 829, 831, 833 (Minn. App. 1984) (upholding stop of vehicle for “excessive muffler noise” and “noisy muffler,” but failing to set out facts surrounding stop).  Based on the facts before us, we do not believe that these cases are controlling.  We therefore affirm the district court’s suppression order.

            Finally, respondent moves for attorney fees.  A defendant forced to respond to a pretrial prosecution appeal is entitled to reasonable attorney fees and expenses incurred in defense of the appeal.  Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.04, subd. 2(6).  Respondent seeks $1,320 for attorney fees and $249.85 for brief printing.  The total amount is well within the range of awards usually made by this court, and the state has made no objection.  We therefore grant respondent’s motion, and award fees and expenses totaling $1,569.85.

            Affirmed; motion granted.


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1]  State v. George, which holds that a stop is invalid if based upon a mistake of law, is distinguishable from cases in which a stop is upheld as valid, even though based upon an officer’s mistake of fact, such as the identity of a driver.  See, e.g., State v. Duesterhoeft, 311 N.W.2d 866, 868 (Minn. 1981); City of St. Paul v. Vaughn, 306 Minn. 337, 342-43, 237 N.W.2d 365, 368-69 (1975).