This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A05-549

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Crystal Marie Jorgensen,

Appellant.

 

Filed April 4, 2006

Affirmed

Willis, Judge

 

Mille Lacs County District Court

File No. K8-03-234

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101-2134; and

 

Jan Kolb, Mille Lacs County Attorney, Christopher J. Zipko, Assistant County Attorney, Courthouse Square, 525 Second Street Southeast, Milaca, MN  56353 (for respondent)

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Steven P. Russett, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN  55414 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WILLIS, Judge

            In this appeal from a conviction of fifth-degree controlled-substance crime, appellant argues that the district court should have suppressed evidence that was obtained when police stopped the car in which appellant was a passenger.  Because we conclude that the totality of the circumstances justified the investigatory stop, we affirm.

FACTS

            On February 13, 2003, at approximately 3:30 a.m., Princeton police officer Joe Backlund saw a car parked next to a gas station in the city of Princeton.  When Officer Backlund approached the gas station in his squad car, the parked car’s headlights came on, and the car pulled away from its parking space.  Officer Backlund activated the squad car’s spotlight and red strobe lights, and the car stopped in front of the squad car.  Officer Backlund approached the car and recognized the driver as Bobby Lee Iler; Officer Backlund knew that Iler’s driver’s license was revoked.  Officer Backlund requested identification from Iler and from his passenger, appellant Crystal Marie Jorgensen.  Officer Backlund contacted Mille Lacs County dispatch and learned that there was a Benton County arrest warrant outstanding for Jorgensen for fifth-degree controlled-substance crime.  Officer Backlund arrested Jorgensen and searched the vehicle, where he found baggies containing what was later identified as methamphetamine in a purse that Jorgensen admitted was hers.

            The state charged Jorgensen with fifth-degree controlled-substance crime, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2002).  At an omnibus hearing, Jorgensen moved to suppress the methamphetamine evidence, arguing that it was found as the result of an illegal seizure because Officer Backlund did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop of the car in which Jorgensen was a passenger.  The district court denied Jorgensen’s motion, finding that the car had been driven with its headlights off, which was a traffic offense that justified the stop.  Jorgensen moved the court to reconsider its ruling, arguing that there was no evidence in the record that the car had been driven with its headlights off.  The district court concluded that regardless of whether the car’s headlights had been on, the totality of the circumstances justified the stop. 

In July 2004, Jorgensen stipulated to the state’s case under the procedure described in State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854, 857-58 (Minn. 1980).  The district court found Jorgensen guilty, sentenced her to 180 days in jail and a $300 fine, both of which were stayed pending the outcome of this appeal.

D E C I S I O N

When reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, we independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred by not suppressing the evidence.  See State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999).  Whether an articulable basis exists to justify an investigative stop of a motor vehicle is a question of law, which is reviewed de novo.  State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. 2000).  When the facts are not significantly in dispute, this court will “analyze the testimony of the officers and determine if . . . the officers were justified . . . in doing what they did.”  State v. Storvick, 428 N.W.2d 55, 58 n.1 (Minn. 1988).

Jorgensen argues first that the district court erred by finding that the car in question had been driven with its headlights off before the stop.  But because the district court issued a subsequent order in which it concluded that, regardless of whether the car’s headlights had been on, the totality of the circumstances supported Officer Backlund’s stop of the car, any error in the district court’s initial finding is harmless, and we will review whether the totality of the circumstances justifies the stop.

The United States and the Minnesota Constitutions protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.  U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10.  This constitutional protection applies to investigative stops of motor vehicles.  Britton, 604 N.W.2d at 87.  The police may conduct a stop to investigate suspected criminal activity if they can “point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”  Id. (quotation omitted).  The investigatory stop must be based on something “more than an unarticulated ‘hunch’; the officer must be able to point to something objectively supporting [his] suspicion.”  Id.  A trained police officer is entitled to draw “inferences and deductions that might well elude an untrained person.”  State v. Johnson, 444 N.W.2d 824, 826 (Minn. 1989) (quotation omitted).  In some circumstances, “innocent activity might justify the suspicion of criminal activity.”  Id.  The propriety of an investigative stop must be determined by considering the totality of the circumstances surrounding the stop.  Britton, 604 N.W.2d at 87.

Jorgensen, relying on State v. King, No. C1-02-1859 (Minn. App. Mar. 25, 2003), argues that the circumstances here did not establish an articulable, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop.  But unpublished opinions are not binding precedent.  Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3(c) (2004); see Chamberlain v. Chamberlain, 615 N.W.2d 405, 411 n.1 (Minn. App. 2000) (stating that “[u]npublished opinions are of limited value in deciding an appeal”), review denied (Minn. Oct. 25, 2000); Dynamic Air, Inc. v. Bloch, 502 N.W.2d 796, 800-01 (Minn. App. 1993) (noting that while unpublished opinions may be persuasive, “[t]he legislature has unequivocally provided that unpublished opinions are not precedential”). 

The facts here are similar to those in Olmscheid v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 412 N.W.2d 41, 42-43 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Nov. 6, 1987), and Thomeczek v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 364 N.W.2d 471, 472 (Minn. App. 1985).  In Olmscheid,this court concluded that there was an “objective and particularized basis” for stopping a car that was on a “dead-end road at approximately 1:30 a.m. coming from an area behind a car dealership which had recently experienced property theft.”  412 N.W.2d at 42-43.  In Thomeczek, this court upheld the stop of a car that pulled out after being “parked near an empty lot late in the evening in an area undergoing construction, where a burglary, vandalism or theft might occur.”  364 N.W.2d at 472.

Here, Officer Backlund testified that he stopped the car in question because he suspected the occupants of criminal activity at the gas station, based on the following facts:  several nighttime burglaries had occurred at the station in the preceding six months; it was 3:30 a.m., and the station had been closed since 10 p.m.; and the car was parked next to the building and not at the gas pumps, which were operable during off-hours by using a credit card.  We conclude that the totality of the circumstances justified the investigatory stop and, therefore, that the district court did not err by denying Jorgensen’s motion to suppress the methamphetamine evidence.

            Affirmed.