This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Scott Michael Schroeder,
Filed August 31, 2004
Lyon County District Court
File No. T0-04-72
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134; and
Jodi Pariseau, Marshall City Prosecutor, 109 South Fourth Street, Marshall, Minnesota 56258 (for appellant)
Mark D. Nyvold, Special Assistant State Public Defender, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite W1610, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101; and
Pamela Neumann, Special Assistant State Public Defender, 1210 East College Drive, P.O. Box 1232, Marshall, Minnesota 56258 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this investigatory-traffic-stop case, respondent and his young, female passenger were stopped by police who were searching for a young female in connection with a request for a “welfare check.” The district court held that the initial stop was valid but determined that the police officer had no basis to expand the stop once respondent was exonerated. The state argues that the district court clearly erred by suppressing evidence and dismissing charges of fourth-degree DWI, driving while impaired, and minor consumption, because the police officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to expand the stop to determine if respondent was intoxicated. Because police officers cannot stop a vehicle to conduct a “welfare check” absent a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity, we affirm the district court, but on different grounds.
On January 4, 2004, at approximately 2:00 a.m., Julie Deavila called the police because she was concerned for her 16-year-old daughter’s safety, due to “life changing events that took place over the last week,” and she wanted a police officer to check on her daughter. Marshall City Police Officers Jason Kopitski and Jennifer Diamond were sent to conduct a welfare check on Sara Deavila. The officers arrived at the residence and Officer Kopitski heard people running in the backyard and then heard a vehicle engine start in the alley behind the residence. Officer Kopitski walked toward the vehicle sounds and observed a male driving a red Chevy Malibu accelerating quickly out of the alley with a young, female passenger, who appeared to be approximately 16 years old. Officer Kopitski was unable to stop the vehicle, but he observed the license-plate number as the car drove past. Officer Kopitski gave this information to Officer Diamond, and she indicated that she would look for the vehicle.
Officer Diamond located the vehicle and confirmed that it was the same vehicle Officer Kopitski observed leaving the residence. Officer Kopitski informed Officer Diamond that he knocked on the door of the residence but did not enter the residence to look for Sara, and he asked Officer Diamond to stop the vehicle and identify the female passenger.
Officer Diamond stopped the vehicle and requested that the driver provide his driver’s license and asked the passenger her name. Neither the driver nor the passenger could provide identification. The passenger stated that her name was Kelsey. The driver, respondent Scott Michael Schroeder, stated his name and asked why he was stopped. Officer Diamond explained that she was conducting a welfare check on Sara. The passenger stated that Sara was at the residence, but gave a different last name than Deavila. While Officer Diamond was speaking with respondent and the passenger, she smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle. Officer Diamond asked respondent his age, and he stated that he was 18. Officer Diamond asked respondent to come to her squad car, and she observed that respondent’s eyes were bloodshot and that he smelled of alcohol. Respondent denied drinking; Officer Diamond conducted a Breathalyzer test, which indicated that his blood-alcohol concentration level was .16.
Officer Diamond took respondent to the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) in Marshall, Minnesota. After undergoing field sobriety tests at the LEC, respondent was placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated. Respondent was escorted to the Intoxilyzer room and read the implied-consent advisory, and he eventually consented to the test, which indicated an alcohol concentration of .12.
Respondent was charged with one count of fourth-degree DWI, one count of driving while impaired, and minor consumption. An evidentiary hearing was scheduled, and probable cause was submitted to the district court without testimony. Respondent moved to suppress the evidence and dismiss the charges. The district court granted respondent’s motions and dismissed the charges against him. This appeal follows.
“[W]hen reviewing a pretrial order suppressing evidence where the facts are not in dispute and the trial court’s decision is a question of law, the reviewing court may independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the evidence needs to be suppressed.” State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992). When the state appeals pretrial suppression orders, it must “clearly and unequivocally show both that the trial court’s order will have a critical impact on the state’s ability to prosecute the defendant successfully and that the order constituted error.” State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998) (quotations omitted).
The state argues that the district court erred by suppressing the evidence and dismissing the charges against respondent. The state contends that Officer Diamond had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to expand the traffic stop in order to determine if respondent was intoxicated because Officer Diamond detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle and from respondent. Respondent counters that the district court properly suppressed the evidence because the police officer had no basis to make the initial stop or to continue to detain respondent once the officer learned that the young woman in his car was not the person the police were seeking. In granting respondent’s motion to suppress the evidence, the district court noted that the initial stop was constitutionally valid. But the district court determined that after the initial stop, respondent and the passenger were immediately exonerated, and therefore the officer had no authority to continue the intrusion.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. Amend. IV; Minn. Const. Art. I § 10. To conduct an investigatory stop, an officer must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 136 (Minn. 1999) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1879-80 (1968)). The determination of whether a seizure is constitutional is a question of law subject to de novo review. State v. Olson, 634 N.W.2d 224, 228 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Dec. 11, 2001). When there is no factual dispute, a reviewing court determines if a police officer’s actions constitute a seizure and if the officer articulated an adequate basis for the seizure. See State v. Houston, 654 N.W.2d 727, 731 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Mar. 26, 2003).
The district court determined that the initial stop was constitutionally valid. We conclude that the district court erred in so holding, but we affirm the district court’s ultimate conclusion that the evidence must be suppressed. Here, based on the information that Officer Diamond received from Officer Kopitski, it is clear that when she stopped respondent’s car, she did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that respondent was engaged in criminal activity. Officer Diamond’s report notes that Officer Kopitski saw a male and a female in a vehicle leaving the residence. Officer Diamond located the vehicle and verified that it was the same vehicle that left the residence. Officer Kopitski told Diamond that he did not enter the residence and “asked that [Officer Diamond] stop the vehicle and identify the female passenger.” Nothing that Officer Kopitski told Diamond is indicative of criminal activity. Nor do his statements suggest that he thought the female passenger was in any danger or in need of immediate aid. He simply wanted Diamond to identify the female passenger. Furthermore, Officer Diamond’s report states that she told respondent that she stopped him to conduct a “welfare check on Sara.” She did not state that respondent was stopped because of any suspected criminal activity or because she believed the passenger was in danger or in need of immediate aid.
We have found no cases that address whether a police officer can make an investigatory stop to check on a person’s welfare, nor have the parties cited any such authority. But the case law is clear that a police officer must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity for a stop to be constitutional. See Munson, 594 N.W.2d at 136. We acknowledge that the police officers were providing a laudable community service by following up on a concerned mother’s request to check on her teen-age daughter’s safety. Although the mother’s specific concerns are not clear from the record, and she apparently was not at the residence herself, she was concerned enough to call the police at 2:00 in the morning. Thus, from the standpoint of the welfare check, and given the information they possessed at that point, it was reasonable for the police to stop a car quickly pulling away from the residence in question at 2:00 a.m. with a teen-age female in the passenger seat. But as a matter of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, the police did not have the necessary reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify stopping respondent’s car, and therefore the evidence of respondent’s intoxication that resulted from the stop must be suppressed.
The initial stop of respondent was invalid because police officers cannot stop a vehicle to conduct a “welfare check” absent a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Accordingly, we affirm the district court on other grounds.
 Relying on State v. Hickman, 491 N.W.2d 673 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Dec. 15, 1992), the district court suppressed the evidence of respondent’s intoxication, holding that, after the initial stop, respondent and the passenger were immediately exonerated, and the officer had no authority to continue the intrusion. We disagree, and conclude that Hickman is distinguishable because the intrusion here was minimal (asking respondent his name), and Officer Diamond smelled alcohol coming from respondent and the car. Evidence of a crime (DWI) presented itself to her, and she was authorized to investigate further. But we will not reverse a correct decision simply because it is based on incorrect reasons. Katz v. Katz, 408 N.W.2d 835, 839 (Minn. 1987).
 Indeed, there is authority for the proposition that officers may make a stop to conduct a welfare check when there is an emergency and a person is in need of assistance. See State v. Halla-Poe, 468 N.W.2d 570, 572 (Minn. App. 1991) (“Under the ‘emergency exception’ to the warrant requirement police are allowed to make a warrantless entry and search of a home when they reasonably believe that a person within is in need of immediate aid.”). This is not such a case. Here, there is no allegation that the welfare check constituted an emergency or that Sara was in need of immediate aid. The officers were conducting the welfare check “because of the life changing events that took place over the last week [and Sara Devalia’s parents] were very concerned for the safety of their 16-year-old daughter.” Nowhere is it alleged that Sara Devalia’s parents’ concern for their daughter’s safety, albeit genuine, was such that they reasonably believed Sara required immediate aid. Moreover, the officers did not believe Sara was in immediate need of aid as evidenced by the fact that Officer Kopitski did not enter the residence to conduct the welfare check when no one answered the door.