This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Lizabeth Ann Skarja,
St. Louis County District Court
File No. K2-04-102079
Michael A. Hatch, State Attorney General, John B. Galus, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1800, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101; and
Alan L. Mitchell,
St. Louis County Attorney,
John M. Stuart,
State Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant State Public Defender,
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This is an appeal from a conviction of fifth-degree controlled substance crime. Appellant argues that police who stopped her car to see if her passenger was a man they were seeking lacked articulable suspicion to stop the car. She argues they stopped her simply because her car matched a general description of the car driven by the suspect, whom they only suspected of intending to commit a future crime. Appellant also argues that police lacked any articulable suspicion to continue the stop after they learned appellant’s passenger was not the suspect. Thus, she argues their discovery of the warrant for her arrest was the fruit of the illegal stop. We affirm.
While on duty, St. Louis County Sheriff Deputy Nicholas Toewe (Toewe) received a telephone call from a woman who informed Toewe that her ex-husband was en route to her residence. The woman feared for her safety because of past violence and threats from her ex-husband. The woman informed Toewe that her ex-husband was traveling in an “older black car” and that she “didn’t know who he was going to be with.” The woman gave no description of her ex-husband or information about who may be with him. Toewe did not know the ex-husband nor had he ever met him.
Approximately two hours after the telephone call, Toewe conducted a stop of appellant Lizabeth Skarja’s 1991 black car. Appellant’s car was driving towards and was five blocks from the address of the woman’s house who had called earlier. Toewe noticed a female driver, appellant, and a male passenger in the front seat. Toewe testified that he stopped the vehicle simply to investigate whether the ex-husband might be in the vehicle. There was nothing wrong with the vehicle nor had the driver committed any traffic violation.
After Toewe approached the vehicle, appellant inquired as to why she had been stopped and was told by Toewe that he wanted to speak with her passenger. Toewe testified that if the passenger was in fact the ex-husband, his intent was only to warn the ex-husband not to go to his ex-wife’s home. Toewe approached the passenger’s side of the car and asked the passenger for identification. The passenger presented identification and Toewe had no reason to believe that the passenger was not the individual on the identification card. Toewe returned to his squad car to conduct a status check on the passenger. He determined the passenger was not the ex-husband.
After contacting dispatch with the passenger’s information and while waiting for information on the passenger, Toewe was contacted by radio by Deputy Aaron Nevala (Nevala), who requested that Toewe telephone him. Toewe telephoned Nevala, who told Toewe that the female with the passenger was most likely Liz Skarja, whom he had just arrested a week earlier. Nevala told Toewe that when he arrested appellant, she had provided him with identification in the name of Terrina Shoquist. Nevala also opined that appellant might have in her possession stolen checks in Shoquist’s name.
speaking with Nevala, Toewe approached the car and asked appellant for
identification. Appellant presented a
Subsequent to appellant’s arrest, Toewe conducted a search of appellant’s vehicle, finding methamphetamine. Appellant was charged with (1) controlled substance crime in the fifth-degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1); (2) giving a false name to a peace officer in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.506, subd. 2; and (3) driving after revocation in violation of Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 2.
Appellant contested the vehicular stop
and the length of detention, and sought suppression of the methamphetamine as a
result of an illegal search and seizure.
After a contested omnibus hearing, the district court found that Toewe’s
traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment to the
Appellant entered Lothenbach pleas on the three charges and was convicted by the district court. Appellant received the presumptive sentence of twenty-four months for the fifth-degree possession charge, and the two remaining charges were dismissed. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
state concedes that the initial stop of appellant’s vehicle was not based on a
reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Based on the state’s appreciated candor, the
district court found that Toewe’s traffic stop of appellant was
unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment to the
determining the propriety of investigative stops, this court “review[s] the
events surrounding the stop and consider[s] the totality of the circumstances
in determining whether the police had a reasonable basis justifying the stop.” State
v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (
conclude that the initial stop of appellant’s vehicle was not an “articulable
suspicion” stop, but a stop based on legitimate police work with the intention
of hoping to prevent a future criminal domestic incident. A similar scenario would be a state highway
patrolman stopping cars at random (no articulable suspicion of any criminal act
involved) to warn motorists that a bridge ahead had washed out by heavy rain
and to caution them to turn around and find an alternate safe road. There is no question that well-intentioned
random stops are not automatically valid.
See Ascher v. Commissioner of Pub.
Safety, 519 N.W.2d 183, 186-87 (
in order to remove drunken drivers from the road. ‘But consensus that a particular law enforcement technique serves a laudable purpose has never been the touchstone of constitutional analysis’” (citing Mich. Dep’t of State Police v. Sitz, 496
Here, the law enforcement officer was, at least, in a good place for legitimate and verifiable reasons. Thus, our analysis does not stop at the “stop.” At that point, for instance, the “plain sight” rule is in effect and people in that car do not have immunity to commit new crimes or attempted crimes or give off visible signs of criminal activity, even though the initial stop was invalid for criminal purposes. We analyze the Fourth Amendment constitutional issues in a criminal case from a different perspective than the legitimate civic duties of law enforcement personnel.
is correct about the state of the law.
The district court, however, found that while Toewe was conducting a status check on the passenger, he was notified and realized that an outstanding warrant for appellant’s arrest existed. Once Toewe returned to the vehicle to ascertain appellant’s identification, appellant identified herself with a false name and date of birth, using another person’s driver’s license.
Appellant does not dispute the district court’s findings that she falsely identified herself. Appellant argues that the district court impermissibly relied on the fact that she falsely identified herself because she claims her false identification only occurred because she was stopped unlawfully. The state argues that, although it conceded the traffic stop was unlawful, appellant committed a new and distinct crime after the stop by giving Toewe a false name and misrepresenting herself by presenting someone else’s driver license. The state argues appellant’s intentional misrepresentation is a sufficient intervening circumstance that purges the taint of an unlawful stop, if one occurred. We agree with the district court and respondent that there were sufficient independent intervening circumstances that allowed law enforcement to proceed further after the initial stop (invalid) revealed nothing suspicious about the passenger.
Purely by happenstance, Toewe received credible information from another deputy that appellant might have stolen checks in her possession. We conclude that this information gave Toewe the right to approach appellant and ask for identification; that led to the discovery of the stolen checkbook. Appellant could have been arrested by Toewe on her outstanding warrant, and the discovery of the stolen checkbook. Once Toewe arrested appellant, he initiated a search incident to the arrest which produced the methamphetamine. The district court found that Toewe discovered the methamphetamine after arresting appellant on her outstanding warrant. It found that any evidence discovered as a result of the arrest was admissible because the search was incident to appellant’s (legitimate) arrest. We agree.
Although a fine line exists, we conclude that the district court correctly found that there were in effect two separate stops and brief detentions. The initial stop, based upon the information regarding the ex-husband, led to no charges. The second stop, which occurred when Toewe received additional information from another deputy that appellant might be in possession of contraband, was permissible. This stop was based on credible information from a fellow deputy and knowledge of appellant’s outstanding warrant. The basis for appellant’s arrest was distinguishable from and independent of the initial traffic stop. Appellant’s arrest was a result of the information received from Nevala, not from the initial traffic stop. Once Toewe confirmed that appellant’s passenger was not who he was looking for, new and distinct information was received by Toewe and thus began his investigation into appellant’s identity. Toewe did not exploit or purposely inquire about appellant’s identity until receiving information from Nevala. When Nevala learned of the passenger’s name, he knew that appellant associated with the passenger and reminded Toewe that if the driver was in fact appellant, she had an outstanding warrant. It was after receiving this information that Toewe questioned appellant and recognized her and her distinctive neck tattoo after recalling a police flyer he had seen regarding appellant’s outstanding warrant.
identifying appellant as having an outstanding warrant, Toewe arrested and
searched appellant and her vehicle, discovering the methamphetamine. The district court correctly found that
appellant’s arrest was valid as a result of appellant’s outstanding warrant and
that the search was lawful as a search incident to an arrest. See New York v. Belton, 453
 Appellant does not raise the issue nor does anything in the record indicate that, in any way, the stop was pretextual for purposes of checking out a person or persons who were suspected of harboring contraband.