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be unpublished and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
State of Minnesota,
Filed April 4, 2006
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
and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Stoneburner,
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
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.
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Lee Iler; Officer Backlund knew that Iler’s driver’s license was revoked.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.
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
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).
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.
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.
relying on State v. King, No.
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”).
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.
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.