This opinion will be unpublished and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,
Joshua Michael Valentino,
Filed November 16, 2004
Reversed and remanded
Olmsted County District Court
File No. T4-04-1123
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Terry L. Adkins, Rochester City Attorney, Peter D. Magnuson, Laura M. Auron, Assistant City Attorneys, 201 Southeast Fourth Street, Suite 247, Rochester, MN 55904-3780 (for appellant)
Brandon Lawhead, Lawhead Law Offices, 301 South Main Street, Austin, MN 55912 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
The State of Minnesota appeals from the district court’s pretrial order suppressing evidence of intoxication and dismissing a charge of fourth-degree driving while impaired against respondent Joshua Valentino. The district court ruled that because the state trooper had no reasonable, objective basis for the stop, the stop of respondent’s car was illegal.
Because the trooper articulated a reasonable and objective basis for making a brief investigatory stop, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
D E C I S I O N
“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). We review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error. State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997). Findings of fact are clearly erroneous when the record does not reasonably support them. Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 102 (Minn. 1999).
A stop is lawful under the Fourth Amendment if an officer can articulate a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” Berge v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985) (quotation omitted). “Ordinarily, if an officer observes a violation of a traffic law, however insignificant, the officer has an objective basis for stopping the vehicle.” George, 557 N.W.2d at 578.
The trooper here testified that he followed respondent for more than a mile and observed respondent’s car repeatedly cross the fog line onto the shoulder of the road, the dotted lines or skip stripes that divided the two east-bound lanes, and the center line dividing respondent’s lane of traffic from oncoming traffic. The trooper described respondent’s car as “drifting” and testified that in his experience, such conduct often indicates intoxication. Although there was snow on the road and the shoulder, the trooper claimed that the lane markings were visible. Respondent denied crossing the centerline, but did not deny “drifting” and claimed that he was merely following tire tracks in the snow. The district court concluded that respondent’s driving conduct was explained by the presence of snow and that the trooper “did not point out to the court any other driving conduct beside the ‘drifting’ that would lead him to believe that [respondent] was impaired.”
In order to determine whether a stop is justified, we consider the totality of the circumstances and any inferences or deductions that a trained law enforcement officer might be permitted to make under those circumstances. State v. Richardson, 622 N.W.2d 823, 825 (Minn. 2001). The fact that a different inference could be drawn from the same circumstances does not negate the officer’s conclusions. Shull v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 398 N.W.2d 11, 14 (Minn. App. 1986). In Shull, the officer stopped defendant’s car based on his excessively slow speed and weaving over the centerline. Id. The defendant argued that his driving was proper based on road conditions: the road was winding, snowpacked, and slippery. Id. This court concluded that although the inference could be drawn that the defendant was driving properly for the road conditions, this did not negate the objective facts observed by the officer that led him to suspect the defendant of criminal driving. Id.
In Warrick v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. App. 1985), on which the district court relied, this court found that none of the driving conduct was a violation of law. Id. at 586. Here, however, the trooper followed respondent for more than one mile and observed a series of minor lane violations. The trooper further testified that in his experience such driving conduct often indicated intoxication. Contrary to the district court’s findings, the trooper observed specific illegal driving conduct over a period of time and testified that he stopped respondent because of the improper lane usage. Whether the driving conduct is described as “weaving” or “drifting,” these observations provide a reasonable and objective basis for an investigatory stop. See Richardson, 622 N.W.2d at 825; State v. Wagner, 637 N.W.2d 330, 334 (Minn. App. 2001).
The district court is generally in a position to make credibility determinations. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. The district court, however, did not indicate why it found the trooper’s testimony incredible. In any event, respondent admitted that he followed tracks that went over the fog line, thus confirming the trooper’s testimony. This admission alone supports the trooper’s description of improper lane usage.
We therefore reverse the district court’s order suppressing evidence of intoxication and dismissing the charge against respondent, and remand for further proceedings.
Reversed and remanded.