This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






Stacy Michelle Hanna, petitioner,





Commissioner of Public Safety,



Filed October 18, 2005


Dietzen, Judge


Stevens County District Court

File No. C5-04-112


James R. Loraas, Loraas & Loraas, 8400 Normandale Lake Boulevard, Suite 920, Bloomington, MN 55437 (for appellant)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Joel Watne, Jeffrey S. Bilcik, Assistants Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




Appellant challenges the revocation of her driver’s license, arguing that a seizure occurred when the arresting officer positioned his squad car directly behind appellant’s legally parked vehicle, and that the officer lacked reasonable articulable suspicion at the time of the seizure.  Because we conclude that the officer’s actions did not constitute a seizure, and that the officer possessed a reasonable articulable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop, we affirm.


On Saturday, April 17, 2004, at approximately 10:25 p.m., two Stevens County deputy sheriffs on routine patrol together observed a vehicle driving along the highway three to five car lengths ahead of them make a right-hand turn into the parking lot of an auto dealership.  The dealership had closed for business earlier that evening between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m.  The deputies then observed the vehicle park in the auto dealership parking lot and turn its headlights off.  Upon observing this, the deputy-driver turned the patrol vehicle around within roughly 10 or 15 seconds, pulled up behind the vehicle, and stopped “directly behind it” without turning on the patrol vehicle’s overhead lights.  The reasons later articulated for this action were to provide assistance or investigate possible illegal activity.

After parking the squad car, the deputy-driver exited the squad car and approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, observing that the vehicle contained a female driver and two male passengers.  The deputy, standing outside the suspect’s vehicle, asked the driver what they were doing in the parking lot, to which the woman repeatedly replied that she was not driving.  The deputy testified that from the outset of the questioning, he smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath.  The deputy then asked the driver to identify herself and to step out of her vehicle.  The driver was identified as appellant, Stacy Hanna, and subsequent investigation revealed that she was driving while under the influence of alcohol.  Appellant was charged with driving while impaired (DWI).

Following an implied-consent revocation hearing under Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(a), the Commissioner of Public Safety revoked appellant’s driver’s license.  The district court sustained the revocation, holding that the deputy had a sufficient basis to conduct a limited investigatory stop of appellant’s vehicle.  In so holding, the district court found that no seizure occurred when the squad car pulled up to appellant’s vehicle because “[t]he officer did not turn on his overhead lights to initiate a stop, nor was there any indication that the deputy blocked the petitioner’s vehicle in with his squad car.” Appellant challenges the district court’s order, arguing that the deputy parking behind and approaching appellant in her vehicle amounted to an illegal seizure and that insufficient grounds existed for a temporary seizure.


When reviewing district court rulings on search and seizure issues, this court accepts the district court’s findings of fact, unless clearly erroneous.  Berge v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985).  “Findings of fact are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”  Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 101 (Minn. 1999).  This court then independently applies seizure law to the facts upheld on review.  Berge, 374 N.W.2d at 732.  “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) (citing Durfee v. Rod Baxter Imports, Inc., 262 N.W.2d 349 (Minn. 1977)).


            Appellant raises two issues on appeal.  First, appellant argues that she was seized when the deputy parked behind her car, and at that time, the deputy did not have reasonable articulable suspicion to seize her.  Respondent counters that no seizure occurred at the time that the deputy parked behind appellant.  The key dispute here involves when appellant was seized for constitutional purposes. 

The United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures.  U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10.  A police officer can make an investigatory stop upon showing “that the stop was not the product of mere whim, caprice or idle curiosity, but was based upon ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.’”  State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921–22 (Minn. 1996) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968).  The Minnesota Supreme Court has concluded that the principles in Terry apply to traffic stops because routine traffic stops are more analogous to investigatory stops than arrests.  See State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 359 (Minn. 2004). 

“[A] person has been ‘seized’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.”  In re Welfare of E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 781 (Minn. 1993) (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554-5, 100 S. Ct. 1870, 1877 (1980)).  A seizure can occur when an officer, “by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.”  State v. Cripps, 533 N.W.2d 388, 391 (Minn. 1995) (quotation omitted).  It is not a seizure for an officer to simply walk up and talk to a person in a public place or a driver seated in an already parked vehicle. State v. Vohnoutka, 292 N.W.2d 756, 757 (Minn. 1980). An officer may approach a vehicle parked in a public place, even when there is no indication that the occupants of the vehicle are engaged in criminal activity, to determine whether they need assistance.  Kozak v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 359 N.W.2d 625, 628 (Minn. App. 1984); Blank v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 358 N.W.2d 441, 442–43 (Minn. App. 1984).  However, a seizure can occur if an officer fully or partially blocks a parked vehicle and shows some authority to lead the suspect to reasonably believe she is not “free to leave.”  See Klotz v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 437 N.W.2d 663, 665 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. May 24, 1989); State v. Sanger, 420 N.W.2d 241, 242 (Minn. App. 1988).

            Appellant relies on Klotz and Sanger to support her contention that she was seized when the deputy parked his squad car behind her vehicle.  In Klotz, this court determined that a seizure occurred when a trooper “pulled in behind Klotz’s vehicle, blocking it partially, and then called out to Klotz, who had left his vehicle and was walking away, and asked him to stop and identify himself.”  437 N.W.2d at 665.  In Sanger, this court held that a seizure occurred where an officer boxed in Sanger’s car, activated his squad car’s overhead lights, and honked his horn.  420 N.W.2d at 243. 

            Appellant’s reliance on Klotz and Sanger is misplaced.  Appellant had already parked her vehicle when the deputy parked behind it.  Appellant was free to leave the scene when the deputy first parked and approached her vehicle.   Cf. Sanger, 420 N.W.2d at 242.  The deputy did not turn on the squad car’s overhead lights or instruct appellant to remain in the vehicle when he initially parked behind it.  Cf. Klotz, 437 N.W.2d at 665.  Therefore, we conclude that no seizure occurred when the deputy parked behind appellant.

            Appellant contends she was not free to leave because her car was blocked from leaving the parking lot.  But the district court found that there was no indication that appellant’s vehicle was blocked from leaving.  The deputy’s testimony on this fact issue was uncontroverted.  The district court had the opportunity to observe this testimony, including the diagram the deputy drew of the scene.  We defer to the district court’s finding that appellant’s vehicle was not blocked from leaving.  Therefore, no seizure occurred when the deputy first parked behind appellant.

            The district court further concluded that even if a seizure occurred when the deputy parked behind appellant, the deputy had reasonable articulable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop.  We agree.  The factual basis required to support an investigatory stop is minimal.  Knapp v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 610 N.W.2d 625, 628 (Minn. 2000).  To conduct an investigative stop, a law enforcement official must be able to articulate some objective manifestation that the person seized has been, is presently, or is about to be, engaging in criminal activity.  State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. 2000).  “In the proper performance of his duties, an officer has not only the right but a duty to make a reasonable investigation of vehicles parked along roadways to offer such assistance as might be needed and to inquire into the physical condition of persons in vehicles.”  Kozak, 359 N.W.2d at 628 (emphasis added).

Here, appellant, driving several car lengths ahead of the deputies, parked and turned off her vehicle’s headlights in a car dealership parking lot, several hours after the dealership closed on a Saturday night.  The deputy articulated valid reasons for the stop: to provide assistance or investigate possible illegal activity.  The events observed by the deputies, at the very least, warranted further investigation in order to ensure nobody was in need of assistance and that a crime was not about to occur.  Therefore, the deputies had reasonable articulable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop.


            Second, appellant alternatively contends that a seizure occurred when the deputy approached her and ordered her out of her vehicle.  Appellant relies on testimony from the officer in which he responded in the affirmative when asked, “when you first approached, you ordered [appellant] out of the driver’s door, correct?”  Respondent counters that appellant takes the deputy’s answer out of context, and that his overall testimony establishes that the deputy first questioned appellant while she was in her vehicle before asking her to step out. 

The district court considered and rejected appellant’s argument.  The district court relied on the deputy’s testimony on redirect that he asked appellant to step from her vehicle “[a]fter [he] had spoken with her briefly.”  The record also indicates that when the deputy questioned appellant in her vehicle, he observed an “odor of alcohol emanating from her.”  The record supports the district court’s finding that the deputy questioned appellant and smelled alcohol on her breath before ordering her out of her vehicle.

The district court did not clearly err in finding that appellant’s car was already stopped in the auto dealership’s parking lot; nor did the district court clearly err in finding that the deputy did not order appellant from her vehicle until he smelled alcohol emanating from her.   Therefore, no seizure occurred until the deputy smelled alcohol on appellant’s breath.  By then, the deputy had lawful grounds to seize appellant.  Holtz v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 340 N.W.2d 363, 365 (Minn. App. 1983) (ruling that “an officer need only have one objective indication of intoxication to constitute reasonable and probable grounds to believe a person is under the influence.”). 

On appeal, appellant asks this court to reconsider the district court’s findings of fact in a light more favorable to appellant.  Because the district court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, we decline to do so.