This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







State of Minnesota,





Waleya Lynn Matt,




Filed October 17, 2006


Randall, Judge


Polk County District Court

Docket No.: K5-04-566



Michael Hatch, State Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134; and


Gregory Alan Widseth, Polk County Attorney, Scott Allen Buhler, Assistant County Attorney, Crookston Professional Center, Suite 101, 223 East Seventh Street, Crookston, Minnesota 56716 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Michael F. Cromett, Assistant State Public Defender, Office of the State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Peterson, 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 for fifth-degree controlled substance crime, arguing that police did not have articulable suspicion to stop the car driven by the man with whom appellant and her family were living.  Appellant argues that child-protection reports alleging possible mistreatment of appellant’s children did not justify the stop, and that police had only a hunch that appellant and her husband might be in the vehicle.  Appellant also argues that the informant who had reported appellant was using drugs while pregnant and while breast-feeding was not shown to be reliable or to have a reliable basis of knowledge.  Finally, appellant argues that this information did not provide probable cause to arrest appellant.  We reverse.


On March 17 and April 14, 2004, Polk County child protection authorities received two reports alleging that appellant, Waleya Matt, had used drugs while pregnant and was continuing to use drugs while breast-feeding her newborn child.  On April 20, 2004, social worker Molly Demarais and Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy Randall Sondrol made an attempt to contact appellant.  They believed that appellant, with her husband and child, was living at the residence of Wayne Zornes.  As Demarais and Deputy Sondrol were en route to Zornes’s residence, they passed Zornes’s vehicle, headed in the opposite direction.  Deputy Sondrol observed that there were others in the vehicle with Zornes, and pulled the vehicle over.  Zornes had not violated any traffic laws.  Deputy Sondrol had not recognized Zornes’s passengers prior to pulling Zornes’s vehicle over.  Deputy Sondrol had never encountered appellant before, and, after stopping the vehicle, asked Zornes whether his passengers were the Matts.  Zornes’s passengers were appellant; her husband, Carl Matt; appellant’s child; and one other person. 

            After determining that Zornes’s passengers were the Matts, Deputy Sondrol explained that he wanted to question the Matts regarding the child protection reports.  He asked them if they would returnto Zornes’s residence to discuss the allegations.  The Matts agreed.  At no point did Deputy Sondrol place anyone under formal arrest, but he did not advise them that they were free to leave.  Deputy Sondrol and Demarais followed Zornes and the Matts back to Zornes’s residence. 

When they arrived, appellant rushed toward the house.  Deputy Sondrol called to her to stop, which she did not do.  She entered the house, and Deputy Sondrol followed her.  The deputy stated that he took the Matts’ previous agreement to return to Zornes’s residence as permission to enter the house.  Deputy Sondrol did not have a warrant to enter the house.  After entering, but before questioning the Matts, Zornes gave Deputy Sondrol permission to be in the house. 

Once in the house, Deputy Sondrol asked Mr. Matt for consent to search the bedroom and bathroom that he and appellant occupied.  Mr. Matt consented.  Sondrol’s search uncovered a small amount of Oxycodone and drug paraphernalia.  Deputy Sondrol did not place appellant under arrest until other officers arrived a short time later.  While being questioned, appellant made incriminating statements. 

Appellant’s counsel filed a motion seeking to suppress evidence and dismiss the criminal charge pending against appellant (this motion was later amended by a filing on June 8, 2004).  On June 15, 2004, the district court judge denied this motion as untimely, and the matter was set for jury trial.  On September 27, 2004, appellant renewed her request for an omnibus hearing and filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained on April 20, 2004 because Deputy Sondrol did not “have reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of the vehicle defendant was riding [in].”  The district court subsequently reversed the June 15 order and ordered an omnibus hearing on the matter.   

After her motion to suppress was denied the second time, appellant submitted her case to the district court pursuant to the procedure authorized in State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980).  The district court found appellant guilty, and sentenced her to 12 months and one day in prison.  This appeal followed. 


When reviewing a lower court’s decision on a motion to suppress evidence, this court “may independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in suppressing—or not suppressing—the evidence.”  State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999).  The facts surrounding Deputy Sondrol’s stop of Zornes’s vehicle are uncontested. 

A passenger in a vehicle stopped by law enforcement has standing to contest the lawfulness of the stop.  See State v. Ritchie, 379 N.W.2d 550, 552-53 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Feb. 14, 1986).  A passenger has “a protectible Fourth Amendment interest in not being stopped unless the police officers [are] able to justify the stop based on the standards set forth in Terry [v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968)] and in United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 101 S. Ct. 690 (1981).”  Id.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, § 10 of the Minnesota Constitution prohibit “unreasonable searches and seizures” of “persons, houses, papers, and effects.  . . . ”  Because a vehicle stop constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment these provisions apply to vehicle stops by law enforcement officers.  See In re E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 782 (Minn. 1993).  Warrantless seizures are per se unreasonable, with only a few narrow exceptions.  State v. Hanley, 363 N.W.2d 735, 738 (Minn. 1985).  One recognized exception is made when the officer involved had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the subject was engaged in illegal activity.  See State v. Cripps, 533 N.W.2d 388, 391 (Minn. 1995).  In the context of a vehicle stop, a police officer may conduct a limited stop to investigate suspected criminal activity if the officer can point to “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion.”  State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921-22 (Minn. 1996) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S. Ct. at 1880).

The district court provided two possible reasonable grounds for Deputy Sondrol’s stop of the vehicle in which appellant was a passenger.  First, “the Matts lived with Mr. Zornes’, [sic] and even though the officer may not have known for sure who was in the vehicle at the time of the stop, the fact that the vehicle contained four people would suggest the good possibility that the Matts were accompanying Mr. Zornes at that time.”  Second, Deputy Sondrol had reason to believe that the Matts were using illegal drugs.  With regard to the second ground, appellant and the state argue at length in their briefs
over the reliability of the information provided to the child protection authorities regarding appellant’s drug use. 

Information provided by private, identified citizens—as was the case here—is presumed to be reliable.  See Marben v. State Dept. of Pub. Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Minn. 1980).  However, even if Deputy Sondrol relied upon the confidential informant’s information that appellant was using drugs and staying with Zornes, this does not provide a reasonable and articulable suspicion for Deputy Sondrol to believe that she was in Zornes’s vehicle. 

            As noted above, at trial, Deputy Sondrol agreed that he had never encountered the Matts before.  Prior to stopping the vehicle, he had not observed the infant in the vehicle.  After stopping the vehicle, he had to ask Zornes if his passengers were the Matts.  There is no evidence in the record that the deputy had any reason at all to believe that the Matts were traveling with Zornes, beyond the possibility that they “might be.” 

We agree that “the factual basis required to support a stop is minimal.”  Knapp v. Commissioner of Public Safety, 610 N.W.2d 625, 628 (Minn. 2000).  An officer legitimately may draw inferences and make deductions that might well elude an untrained person based upon her or his general knowledge and experience, personal observations, information the officer has received from other sources, the nature of the offense suspected, the time, the location, and anything else that is relevant.  Applegate v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 402 N.W.2d 106, 108 (Minn. 1987).  But a traffic stop must not be “the product of mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity.”  Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921. 

Although the reasonable suspicion standard is flexible, the officer must have some objective, reasonable basis for stopping a vehicle.  See Ornelas v. U.S., 517 U.S. 690, 696, 116 S. Ct. 1657, 1661 (1996) (stating that the principle of reasonable suspicion is not a “finely-tuned standar[d]”).  “[G]ood faith is not enough to constitute probable cause.  That faith must be grounded on facts within knowledge of the [officer], which in the judgment of the court would make his faith reasonable.’”  Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 161-62, 45 S. Ct. 280, 288 (1925) (quoting Director General of Railroads v. Kastenbaum, 263 U.S. 25, 28, 44 S. Ct. 52, 53 (1923)).  This principle also applies to reasonable suspicion; good faith is not enough to constitute reasonable suspicion.

            Here, the state stresses the reliability of the evidence provided by the hospital employee and the confidential informant to justify Deputy Sondrol’s stop of the vehicle in his attempt to locate appellant.  However, the state did not provide evidence that Deputy Sondrol reasonably believed that appellant was in Zornes’s vehicle.  In every case that the state cites, the police obtained a warrant to search a particular area for a person or contraband, or were given detailed information regarding the location of the person or contraband in question for immediate police investigation. 

The tips Deputy Sondrol relied upon were one and two weeks old and neither stated that appellant traveled with Zornes in his vehicle.  It is not suggested that the informants needed to provide the exact location of appellant for the information to be deemed credible.  The information provided correctly noted that appellant was residing with Zornes.  However, for Deputy Sondrol to have executed a valid stop of Zornes’s
vehicle on the information provided by informants, caselaw indicates that the tips must have at least given some indication that appellant was traveling with Zornes.  We conclude the stop of the vehicle was arbitrary, not based on “bad faith,” but based simply on a classic hunch by the officer that stopping the Zornes vehicle might lead to some information about appellant’s whereabouts.  The stop of Zornes’s vehicle fell short of articulable suspicion that criminal activity was present and, thus, the contraband found at the house is “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must be suppressed.  The state presents alternate theories for the admissibility of the contraband, but their theories cannot avoid the consequence of the unconstitutional stop.