This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






State of Minnesota,


Patrick Lawrence Saxton,


Filed December 27, 2005


Peterson, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. K9-04-600928


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55102; and


Mark F. Gaughan, Jensen, Bell, Converse & Erickson, P.A., 1500 Wells Fargo Place, 30 East Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN  55101 (for appellant)


Seamus R. Mahoney, Jennifer M. Macaulay, 700 The St. Paul Building, 6 West Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN  55102 (for respondent)


            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


            In this appeal from a pretrial order suppressing all evidence obtained following the stop of respondent’s vehicle, appellant State of Minnesota argues that the district court erred when it concluded that the state trooper who stopped respondent did not have a basis for the stop.  We reverse.


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 Rice Street without signaling the turn.  The trooper testified that he followed the vehicle for approximately 1000 feet and “observed it nearly crossed over the fog line on the right side, then it weaved back to the left part of the lane, nearly crossing over into the center lane area.  Then once again, it would weave back to the right.”  The vehicle did not touch or cross over the fog line or the center line.  The trooper saw the vehicle weave “more than once,” and did not see any other notable driving conduct.  The trooper stopped the vehicle, and after determining that the driver, respondent Patrick Lawrence Saxton, was under the influence of alcohol, the trooper arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Saxton was charged with three counts of driving under the influence of alcohol, and he moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the stop.  At the hearing on the suppression motion, the trooper testified that his reasons for stopping Saxton were the “failing to signal a turn as a traffic violation . . . as well as weaving within the lane.” 

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.



            When 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 (Minn. 1998) (quoting State v. Zanter, 535 N.W.2d 624, 630 (Minn. 1995)).  The parties have not addressed what impact the suppression order will have on the state’s ability to prosecute Saxton, but it is apparent that suppressing all evidence of intoxication obtained after Saxton’s vehicle was stopped will have a critical impact on the state’s ability to prosecute Saxton. 

“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 (Minn. 2000).  We review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error.  State v. Lee, 585 N.W.2d 378, 383 (Minn. 1998). 

“A brief investigatory stop requires only reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, rather than probable cause.”  State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (Minn. 1996).  Police need not observe an actual violation of the traffic laws to stop a vehicle.  Id.  “The police must only show 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.’”  Id. at 921-22 (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)).

An investigatory 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 (Minn. 1983) (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18, 101 S. Ct. 690, 695 (1981)).  But this does not mean that an investigatory stop is valid only if the officer who made the stop articulates a valid particularized and objective basis for suspecting criminal activity.

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?


392 U.S. at 21-22, 88 S. Ct. at 1880 (citations and quotations omitted). 

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 (Minn. 1983) (citations omitted); see also State v. Faber, 343 N.W.2d 659, 660 (Minn. 1984) (stating that a motor vehicle stop “must be upheld if there was a valid objective basis for it”); State v. Schinzing, 342 N.W.2d 105, 110 n.1 (Minn. 1983) (“If there was an objective basis for the search of the truck, [the officer’s] failure to articulate that basis at the omnibus hearing does not destroy the validity of the search.”); State v. Speak, 339 N.W.2d 741, 745 (Minn. 1983) (holding that because district court believes that facts were sufficient to establish probable cause, fact that officers did not think along these lines does not matter because issue is whether there was objective probable cause, not whether officers subjectively felt that they had probable cause); State v. Barber, 308 Minn. 204, 207, 241 N.W.2d 476, 477 (1976) (holding “the action of the police officer in stopping defendant’s vehicle in this case was proper and not based on mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity” because “the facts, together with the reasonable inferences an experienced police officer could draw therefrom, justify the minimal intrusion upon defendant’s rights”).

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.