This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Patrick Lawrence Saxton,
Filed December 27, 2005
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K9-04-600928
Mahoney, Jennifer M. Macaulay, 700 The St. Paul Building,
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
this appeal from a pretrial order suppressing all evidence obtained following
the stop of respondent’s vehicle, appellant State of
Near midnight on
August 19, 2004, a Minnesota State Patrol Trooper saw a vehicle pull out of the
Hoggsbreath bar parking lot and turn onto
The district court granted Saxton’s suppression motion. The court concluded that Saxton did not violate any traffic laws by failing to signal his turn from the parking lot onto Rice Street or by weaving twice within the traffic lane between the fog line and the center line and that the trooper did not have a sufficient reasonable and articulable basis for stopping Saxton’s vehicle. In an attached memorandum, the district court explained that “[a]lthough actual traffic violations are not necessary for a stop, [the trooper] did not provide . . . any further information or inferences he made from the defendant’s behavior.” The district court stated:
Even considering all of the circumstances surrounding the stop—the time of night, the defendant leaving a bar, failing to signal and weaving—[the trooper] needed to articulate why those circumstances were significant to him and his decision to stop the defendant, especially in the absence of a traffic violation. Because the failure to signal and the weaving in this case were not violations of any traffic laws, they occurred in a short period of time over a short distance and no evidence was provided to the court regarding any other reasons for the stop, the Trooper did not have a basis for the stop.
The state appealed from the district court’s pretrial suppression order.
D E C I S I O N
appealing a pretrial order suppressing evidence “the state 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 (
“In reviewing a
district court’s determinations of the legality of a limited investigatory
stop, we review questions of reasonable suspicion de novo.” State
v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (
investigatory stop requires only reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,
rather than probable cause.” State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (
stop is valid if the officer who made the stop is “able to articulate at the
omnibus hearing that [he] had a ‘particularized and objective basis for
suspecting the particular persons stopped of criminal activity.’” State
v. Kvam, 336 N.W.2d 525, 528 (
In Terry, the United States Supreme Court explained that
[t]he scheme of the Fourth Amendment becomes meaningful only when it is assured that at some point the conduct of those charged with enforcing the laws can be subjected to the more detached, neutral scrutiny of a judge who must evaluate the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure in light of the particular circumstances. And in making that assessment it is imperative that the facts be judged against an objective standard; would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate?
Thus, when evaluating the reasonableness of a seizure, a court’s task is not just to determine whether a police officer articulated a valid reason for the seizure; the court’s task is to apply an objective standard to determine whether a person of reasonable caution who knew what the officer knew at the time of the seizure would believe that a seizure was warranted. An officer’s failure or inability to articulate a valid basis for a seizure does not invalidate the seizure if a valid basis exists. As the Supreme Court explained in Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 138, 98 S. Ct. 1717, 1723 (1978), “the fact that the officer does not have the state of mind which is hypothecated by the reasons which provide the legal justification for the officer’s action does not invalidate the action taken as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify that action.”
Citing Scott, the Minnesota Supreme Court has concluded that
[u]nder the “objective theory” of probable cause which the United States Supreme Court has adopted, a search must be upheld, at least as a matter of federal constitutional law, if there was a valid ground for the search, even if the officers conducting the search based the search on the wrong ground or had an improper motive. . . . The same rule applies to police investigatory practices short of arrest or search.
State v. Pleas, 329 N.W.2d 329, 332 (
Whether weaving within a lane is sufficient to justify a stop depends on the nature and duration of the weaving and the surrounding circumstances. See State v. Ellanson, 293 Minn. 490, 490-91, 198 N.W.2d 136, 137 (1972) (holding officer was justified in stopping a vehicle weaving within its lane because officer thought something might be wrong with steering mechanism); State v. Engholm, 290 N.W.2d 780, 782-84 (Minn. 1980) (upholding stop based on vehicle traveling below posted speed limit and weaving within its lane); State v. Dalos, 635 N.W.2d 94, 95-96 (Minn. App. 2001) (upholding stop of vehicle traveling below posted speed limit and weaving within lane for approximately one-half mile at 2:00 a.m.). But see State v. Brechler, 412 N.W.2d 367, 369 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding that after only seeing the vehicle swerve once within its lane, the stop “was the product of whim and caprice”); Warrick v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 585, 586 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that considering the wind and impaired visibility, subtle weaving within lane and slight speed changes did not reasonably warrant stop).
Considering the time of night and the fact that Saxton’s vehicle left a bar parking lot and weaved from one side of the lane to the other twice within 1000 feet, it was reasonable to suspect that the driver of the vehicle was intoxicated even if the weaving and the failure to signal the turn from the parking lot were not violations of the traffic laws. The trooper’s failure to articulate that he suspected that the driver was intoxicated based on these circumstances does not mean that there was not a valid basis for the stop.
Because we have concluded that it was reasonable to suspect that the driver of the vehicle was intoxicated even if the trooper did not observe an actual violation, it is not necessary for us to determine whether the failure to signal and the weaving were violations of the traffic laws.