This opinion will be unpublished and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
State of Minnesota,
Cassandra Lee Pexa,
Reversed and remanded
Scott County District Court
File No. 70-CR-05-14924
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Patrick J. Ciliberto, Scott County Attorney, Michael J. Groh, Assistant County Attorney, 200 Fourth Avenue West, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for appellant)
Kyle Wermerskirchen, Law Offices of John S. Hughes, Ltd., Barristers Trust Building, 247 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
In this appeal from a pretrial order suppressing evidence of intoxication and dismissing the charge of driving while impaired, the state argues that the district court erred in ruling that there was “no basis for the stop.” Because the findings are insufficient to permit appellate review, we reverse and remand.
June 16, 2005,respondent Cassandra
Lee Pexa was charged by citation with fourth-degree driving while impaired, in
violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 169A.20, subd. 1, .27 (2004), after water
patrol deputy Brett Krick stopped her personal watercraft on
Jacob Gooderum, who was with Pexa on the day she was arrested, testified that Pexa was idling on one personal watercraft and “spinning around close to the dock” while he was “tearing around” a bit on another one. Gooderum also stated there were no other boats within “several hundred feet.” When asked about his operation of the watercraft, Gooderum stated: “[I]f anyone was driving, you know, how they shouldn’t be, it was me.” And when asked if he thought the deputy observed him rather than Pexa, Gooderum testified: “If anything, because [Pexa] was only idling next to the dock. That’s the only explanation I could think of.”
Pexa testified that she had been circling next to the dock with no wake and was idling when the deputy approached. Pexa testified that the nearest boat was “two to three hundred feet” away.
After hearing the testimony, the district court interrupted the state’s summation and ruled from the bench, stating: “I’m going to find the stop was improper, that there was no basis for the stop, the evidence obtained as a result of the stop is excluded from use at trial. As a result, I’m going to order the case dismissed.” This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
appealing from a pretrial suppression order, “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 (
we next consider whether the district court’s ruling was erroneous. We review de novo a district court’s
determination of whether there was reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity to
justify a limited investigatory stop. State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (
brief investigatory stop requires only reasonable suspicion of criminal
activity, rather than probable cause.” State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (
law-enforcement officer need not observe a violation of the traffic laws to
stop a vehicle. Rather, an investigatory
stop is valid if it “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.’” Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921-22 (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)). An investigatory stop may not be constitutionally
infirm if a valid basis for the stop existed, even if the officer’s decision
was made in error. State v. Pleas, 329 N.W.2d 329, 332 (
even if an officer mistakenly stops the wrong vehicle after observing unlawful driving
activity, the stop may still be valid if an objectively reasonable basis for
the stop existed. Johnson, 392 N.W.2d at 687.
In Johnson, the district court
heard conflicting testimony from the officer and the defendant as to whether
the officer stopped the same vehicle the officer had observed violating the
The state argues that the district court erred in suppressing the evidence because Deputy Krick’s testimony established a reasonable basis for the stop, even if he mistakenly stopped the wrong watercraft. Pexa counters that, because the district court clearly made a credibility determination when it ruled that there was “no basis for the stop,” the district court’s decision to suppress the evidence was not erroneous. The district court neither made findings of fact nor explained the basis for its ruling. Therefore, we must determine whether the record will permit us to infer the basis for the district court’s suppression decision.
State v. Kvam,under similar circumstances involving a traffic stop for suspected
driving while impaired, the Minnesota Supreme Court reviewed the district court’s
order in light of three possible scenarios.
336 N.W.2d 525, 527-28 (
the officer’s testimony included evidence sufficient to warrant an
investigatory stop, the Kvam court
determined that whether to reverse the district court’s decision to suppress
the evidence or to remand for findings depended on whether the district court
was justified in rejecting the officer’s testimony in its entirety.
Here, if Deputy Krick observed the conduct he described, there was a lawful basis to stop the watercraft. But both Pexa and Gooderum testified that there were no boats within 150 feet of their respective watercraft and that Pexa was not creating a wake when operating her watercraft. These witnesses testified that Pexa stayed close to the dock, either circling or idling. Thus, it is possible that the district court concluded there was “no basis for the stop” because it did not believe that the deputy observed either unlawful or erratic operation of the watercraft to justify the stop. If the district court found that all of Deputy Krick’s testimony relating to Pexa’s operation of the watercraft lacked credibility, then deference to this determination would be warranted and suppression would be proper.
But it is also possible that the district court credited some or all of Deputy Krick’s testimony but suppressed the evidence because the deputy stopped the wrong vehicle. If this is the case, the district court erred as a matter of law. Here, unlike the facts in Kvam, there are not enough uncontraverted facts in the record to permit us to discern, in the absence of factual findings, whether the officer had a constitutionally valid basis for the stop. Because we cannot ascertain the rationale for the district court’s ruling, we reverse and remand for findings sufficient to permit appellate review.
Reversed and remanded.