This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).







State of Minnesota,





Sheila Kay Knaffla,

Respondent (A06-1512),


Keith Jerome Ferguson,

Respondent (A06-1513).



Filed March 20, 2007


Halbrooks, Judge

Concurring specially, Ross, Judge



Lake County District Court

File Nos. 38-CR-05-505, 38-CR-05-504



Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101; and


Russell Conrow, Lake County Attorney, 601 3rd Avenue, Two Harbors, MN 55616 (for appellant)


Mary M. McMahon, McMahon & Associates Criminal Defense, Ltd., 2499 Rice Street, Suite 140, Roseville, MN 55113 (for respondent Knaffla)


Richard S. Eskola, 3989 Central Avenue Northeast, Suite 600, Columbia Heights, MN 55421 (for respondent Ferguson)


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant State of Minnesota challenges the district court’s pretrial order granting respondents’ motions to suppress evidence and dismissing all charges against them, arguing that law enforcement had reasonable articulable suspicion to justify two different vehicle stops and warrantless searches.  We conclude that law enforcement’s initial stop of respondent Sheila Kay Knaffla on June 2, 2005 was unlawful, and, therefore, all of the evidence obtained thereafter is inadmissible.  We also conclude that the September 26, 2005 stop was unlawful.  Therefore, the district court did not err by suppressing the evidence and dismissing the charges.  We affirm.


In March 2005, law enforcement received information from confidential reliable sources indicating that respondent Keith Ferguson regularly drove a white Jeep Cherokee to Cook County and Lake County in the early morning hours to sell methamphetamine.  The sources stated that Ferguson carried the drugs in his glove compartment and identified the locations of residences that Ferguson was believed to deliver to on a regular basis.  Those residences included a home in Finland

In April and May 2005, police conducted surveillance of Ferguson.  In connection with this surveillance, Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard DeRosier prepared an affidavit in support of an application for a search warrant for the Finland residence, the owners of that residence, and a vehicle registered to them.  But that search-warrant application was never signed or presented to the district court for a determination of probable cause.

On the afternoon of June 2, 2005, Deputy DeRosier was driving south on Highway 61 when he passed a vehicle that he believed to be Ferguson’s Jeep that was headed north on 61.  Deputy DeRosier contacted Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Nathan Stadler and asked him to stop the vehicle.  Stadler did so.  It is undisputed that the Jeep was not stopped as a result of any traffic violation committed by the driver. 

Deputy DeRosier quickly arrived on the scene and found that Knaffla was the only person in the vehicle.  Deputy DeRosier immediately asked Knaffla to sit in his squad car to talk to him.  She was not read her Miranda rights.  Some time after Knaffla and Deputy DeRosier began talking in the squad car, Deputy DeRosier began recording their conversation.  Thus, part of the conversation is unrecorded.  Deputy DeRosier told Knaffla that she was not under arrest, but he stated that the police were looking for Ferguson and that they believed that the Jeep contained methamphetamine. 

Knaffla denied having knowledge of anything in the Jeep other than her belongings, but at some point, she reached into her pocket and produced a “one-hitter” used for smoking marijuana and admitted to “smoking pot.”  Deputy DeRosier believed that Knaffla knew the residents of the Finland home, and he also knew that Knaffla had lived there for a while.  Based on that information, Deputy DeRosier asked Knaffla, “How much meth is there back at the [Finland residence]?  The search warrant’s already typed up.”  Knaffla responded that she was no longer staying there. 

Knaffla told Deputy DeRosier that Ferguson had loaned her the Jeep because her vehicle was inoperable.  She also asked to go home.  Deputy DeRosier told Knaffla that he wanted to release her but that he first needed to search the Jeep.  The deputies then transported Knaffla and the Jeep to the sheriff’s office.  Once there, Knaffla asked to see the search warrant that Deputy DeRosier had referred to.  Deputy DeRosier stated in response that he did not have it with him.  When Knaffla asked Deputy DeRosier if she could get her purse out of the Jeep, he said that he first needed to look at it.

Deputies then used a K-9 to search the vehicle.  The dog alerted to Knaffla’s purse, which was in the center console of the Jeep, and to a small toolbox, which Knaffla stated had been used for methamphetamine at one time.  In the center console, Deputy DeRosier found several portable butane torches and lighters.  Inside the spare-tire compartment, Deputy DeRosier found a pouch that contained a loaded handgun and a box of shells.  A serial-number check of the gun did not produce any record of its being stolen.  Knaffla denied any knowledge of the gun.  Deputy DeRosier told her that she was not being arrested but that she would be charged with fifth-degree possession of controlled substance.  Knaffla was then allowed to drive the Jeep home from the sheriff’s office.

Three days later, the handgun was determined to have been stolen as part of a burglary in Isanti.  The victim stated that he believed that his ex-wife was responsible for the burglary, and she had reportedly been “hanging around” with Ferguson.  Deputy DeRosier contacted Knaffla, advised her of the status of the gun, and told her that she would be charged with possession of a stolen handgun.  Nevertheless, Knaffla was not charged with any crime until a subsequent vehicle stop on September 26, 2005. 

On that day, Deputy DeRosier received a tip that both respondents had been seen in a maroon Chrysler at a McDonald’s in Two Harbors.  Ferguson was driving and Knaffla was the passenger.  When deputies approached the vehicle, it jerked forward, drove over a curb, careened through a patio area, and finally came to a stop in the parking lot.  Deputy DeRosier then arrested both respondents for possession of the handgun that was discovered in the June 2, 2005 stop and impounded the vehicle.  

In the course of an inventory search of the vehicle, Deputy DeRosier found a pouch containing 6.5 grams of a leafy green substance, a digital scale, a butane torch, a methamphetamine pipe, and a straw, containing what he believed to be methamphetamine residue.  Finally, Deputy DeRosier found marijuana paraphernalia, including what he believed to be marijuana residue, in Knaffla’s purse.  There is no record that any of the substances believed to be illegal drugs were tested.

Both respondents were charged with possession of a stolen firearm, fifth-degree possession of methamphetamine, and possession of marijuana.  At a consolidated omnibus hearing, Knaffla challenged the June 2 and September 26 stops based on lack of probable cause and moved to suppress all evidence obtained from both searches and her statements to Deputy DeRosier.  Ferguson asserted the same challenge to the September 26 stop and moved to suppress the evidence obtained from both searches.  Deputy DeRosier testified that he stopped respondents on September 26 because he had earlier decided to place them in custody for possession of the stolen handgun from the June 2 stop.

The district court determined that (1) the methamphetamine charge lacked foundation because the state had no evidence to establish its identity or weight; (2) the stop of the Jeep on June 2, 2005 was not based on reasonable, articulable suspicion; (3) the warrantless search of the Jeep on June 2 was per se unreasonable and, therefore, the gun is inadmissible; (4) Deputy DeRosier illegally took Knaffla into custody on June 2, and her unMirandized statements while she was in custody are inadmissible; (5) Deputy DeRosier lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop the Chrysler on September 26, 2005; and (6) the warrantless search of the Chrysler on September 26 was illegal and, therefore, the evidence of the marijuana and methamphetamine found in the vehicle is inadmissible.  Therefore, the district court dismissed all charges against the respondents.  This consolidated appeal follows.


The state challenges the district court’s pretrial order granting respondents’ suppression motions and dismissing all charges against them.  The state may appeal pretrial orders in felony cases pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.04, subd. 1(1).  But in suppression-of-evidence cases, the state must “clearly and unequivocally” show that (1) the district court’s order will have a “critical impact” on the state’s ability to prosecute the defendant successfully and (2) the order constituted error.  State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998) (quotation omitted).  The critical impact of the suppression order must be determined before deciding whether the order was made in error.  Id.  Here, it is undisputed that the critical-impact factor has been established by the district court’s dismissal of all charges against respondents.  Therefore, we turn our analysis to whether the district court’s order constitutes error.

In determining whether a pretrial suppression order constitutes error, appellate courts “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).  “When reviewing the legality of a seizure or search, an appellate court will not reverse the [district] court’s findings unless clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”  In re Welfare of G.M., 560 N.W.2d 687, 690 (Minn. 1997).  Issues of credibility and the weight of evidence are left to the district court’s discretion.  State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988).  But appellate courts “review de novo a [district] court’s determination of reasonable suspicion as it relates to Terry stops and probable cause as it relates to warrantless searches.”  G.M., 560 N.W.2d at 690 (footnote omitted).

Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I of the Minnesota Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.  U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10.  Warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, subject to limited exceptions.  State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 222 (Minn. 1992) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S. Ct. 507, 514 (1967)).

A limited investigative stop is lawful if the state can show that the officer had a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.”  State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (Minn. 1996) (quotation omitted).  A “particularized and objective basis” is shown when an officer demonstrates a “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, rather than probable cause.”  Id. (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)).

Minnesota cases “do not require much of a showing in order to justify a traffic stop.”  State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997).  Ordinarily, if an officer observes a violation of a traffic law, however insignificant, the officer has a particularized and objective basis for stopping the vehicle.  See, e.g., State v. Barber, 308 Minn. 204, 241 N.W.2d 476 (1976) (upholding stop based on officer’s observation that license plate was wired on rather than bolted on).  In addition, “[w]hen an officer observes a vehicle being driven, it is rational for him or her to infer that the owner of the vehicle is the current operator.”  Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 922.  But “the basis for justifying an intrusion during a minor traffic stop [must] be individualized to the driver toward whom the intrusion is directed,” and “[t]his particularized basis for the intrusion must be both articulable and reasonable.”  State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 364 (Minn. 2004).

The state argues, based on Deputy DeRosier’s testimony that his only reason for stopping the Jeep on June 2, 2005, was the ongoing investigation of Ferguson, that the deputy had a lawful basis for the stop.  But the state concedes that there is nothing in the record to indicate that the person driving the Jeep had committed any traffic violation or other criminal activity.  Deputy DeRosier admitted that the Jeep had not been seen in the area for a month and that the stop took place in the afternoon, not in the early morning hours when Ferguson was believed to deliver drugs.  The state nonetheless argues that the stop was valid under the totality of the circumstances. 

In considering whether law enforcement had a particularized objective basis to make an investigative stop, courts are justified in considering both the totality of the circumstances and the fact that trained law-enforcement officers are permitted to make “inferences and deductions that might well elude an untrained person.”  State v. Kvam, 336 N.W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1983) (quotation omitted).  But cases such as Kvam still involve an objective or recent, known criminal act.  See id. at 526-27 (upholding an investigative stop when the officer who made the stop testified that he saw the defendant driver pull out of a liquor store parking lot “kind of fast,” make a “very wide” turn, and “weav[e]” within his lane); see also Appelgate v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 402 N.W.2d 106, 108 (Minn. 1987) (upholding an investigative stop of a vehicle near the scene of a recent crime when the vehicle was believed to have been involved). 

The state fails to cite any cases indicating that a suspicion that stems from an ongoing investigation can constitute a particularized objective basis for an investigatory stop.  And even if the ongoing investigation were part of a valid, particularized, and objective basis for the stop, that basis evaporated as soon as the deputies discovered that Ferguson was not in the Jeep.  See Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d at 364. 

We conclude that the district court did not err by determining that there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion that justified an investigatory stop of Ferguson’s Jeep on June 2.  Because there was no particularized, objective basis for stopping Ferguson’s Jeep on June 2, 2005, that stop was illegal.  The state conceded at oral argument that, if the stop was illegal, then the evidence that flowed from it is “fruit from the poisonous tree,” requiring suppression.  It is well established that “evidence discovered by exploiting previous illegal conduct is inadmissible.”  State v. Olson, 634 N.W.2d 224, 229 (Minn. App. 2001) (citing Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488, 83 S. Ct. 407, 417 (1963)), review denied (Minn. Dec. 11, 2001).  Evidence that is obtained by the exploitation of illegal actions by law enforcement must be suppressed.  Sun, 371 U.S. at 488, 83 S. Ct. at 417; see also State v. Johnson, 257 N.W.2d 308, 309 (Minn. 1977) (holding that evidence that is seized after an illegal traffic stop should be suppressed).  Evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure is inadmissible to support a conviction.  Harris, 590 N.W.2d at 97.  Thus, because the stop on June 2, 2005 was illegal, the district court properly suppressed any evidence seized as a result of it. 

Further, an investigative traffic stop in which an individual is not free to terminate the encounter constitutes a seizure.  State v. Fort, 660 N.W.2d 415, 418 (Minn. 2003).  Deputy DeRosier’s act of placing Knaffla in his squad car constituted a seizure.  See, e.g., State v. Rosse, 478 N.W.2d 482, 483, 486 (Minn. 1991) (holding that a suspect was seized when, inter alia, she was questioned alone in the front seat of an officer’s car); State v. Voigt, 486 N.W.2d 793, 795-96 (Minn. App. 1992) (holding that a suspect was in custody for purposes of Miranda when officer told suspect in patrol car that he could not go until suspect gave a statement implicating himself), review denied (Minn. Aug. 4, 1992); State v. Day, 461 N.W.2d 404, 406, 407 (Minn. App. 1990) (concluding that a seizure occurred where a uniformed police officer parked a squad car next to appellant’s parked vehicle and summoned appellant to approach the officer’s squad car, provide identification, and answer questions), review denied (Minn. Dec. 20, 1990); State v. Lipinski, 419 N.W.2d 651, 652 (Minn. App. 1988) (“A person has been seized for fourth amendment purposes when an officer requests that person to leave his or her vehicle and sit in the officer’s squad car.”), review denied (Minn. Mar. 23, 1988); Kotewa v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 409 N.W.2d 41, 43 (Minn. App. 1987) (“The officer’s request that [the suspect] produce identification, leave his vehicle and enter the officer’s patrol car falls short of an arrest, but constitutes a seizure which must be reasonable under the fourth amendment.”).

The conclusion that Knaffla was in custody is underscored by the fact that she asked to leave several times and was not allowed to.  Deputy DeRosier had no reason to detain Knaffla, much less question her in his squad car, only partially recording the interview.  As a further impropriety, Deputy DeRosier knowingly and falsely represented to Knaffla that he had a valid search warrant for the Jeep.  There were many errors committed by law enforcement during this incident.

The state further argues that the district court erred in suppressing the evidence obtained as a result of the September 26, 2005 arrest and search.  The state contends that there was probable cause to arrest respondents for possession of the stolen firearm on September 26.  Probable cause to arrest requires police to have a reasonable belief that a certain person has committed a crime.  State v. Wynne, 552 N.W.2d 218, 221-22 (Minn. 1996).  “The test of probable cause to arrest is whether the objective facts are such that under the circumstances ‘a person of ordinary care and prudence [would] entertain an honest and strong suspicion’ that a crime has been committed.”  State v. Johnson, 314 N.W.2d 229, 230 (Minn. 1982) (alteration in original) (quoting State v. Carlson, 267 N.W.2d 170, 173 (Minn. 1978)).  Probable cause is evaluated “from the viewpoint of a prudent and cautious police officer on the scene at the time of arrest.”  State v. Harris, 265 Minn. 260, 264, 121 N.W.2d 327, 331 (1963) (emphasis omitted).  When officers have probable cause to arrest, they may conduct a search incident to arrest.  G.M., 560 N.W.2d at 695.

Deputy DeRosier conceded that he stopped respondents on September 26 solely because of the stolen handgun and not because of any objective reason to believe that respondents were illegally in possession of a firearm.[1]  The state made no argument that Deputy DeRosier had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of any traffic violation to justify the stop on September 26. 

Because the deputy based the arrest on the handgun charges, probable cause is lacking for two reasons.  First, the handgun and all evidence related to it were obtained unlawfully as a result of the June 2 stop.  Therefore, that evidence could not have been used to show probable cause for later arrests.  See Sun, 371 U.S. at 487-88, 83 S. Ct. at 417; Johnson, 257 N.W.2d at 309.  Second, the record does not contain any evidence that would give rise to a suspicion that respondents were committing a crime on September 26.  They were in a different vehicle, they were not engaged in any illegal behavior, and there was no indication that they were in possession of a stolen handgun.  Thus, the district court did not err by concluding that the state lacked probable cause to stop and arrest respondents on September 26.  Because the stop and the arrest were unlawful, the district court did not err by suppressing all evidence obtained from that arrest.

Because we conclude that the district court did not err in suppressing all evidence obtained after the June 2 stop and in determining that law enforcement could not use the evidence it obtained on June 2 to establish probable cause for the September 26 arrest, the district court did not err in dismissing all charges against respondents.


ROSS, Judge (concurring specially)

I concur entirely in the majority opinion, including its analysis and its conclusion that the district court did not err by suppressing the evidence obtained as a result of Deputy Richard DeRosier’s traffic stops.  I write separately to express optimism that the law-enforcement officials and prosecutors involved will take a second look at the district court’s detailed analysis in addressing what appears to be a parade of unconstitutional police actions, which the state maintains were not constitutional violations at all.

It is difficult to imagine, after the swell of judicial decisions that have expounded on the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions and on the Miranda requirement, that a deputy would believe it is constitutionally fitting to seize the driver of a car that the deputy stopped without probable cause or reasonable suspicion that the driver committed any crime; to refuse to release the driver after she requests to leave; to search her purse without reasonable suspicion, a warrant, or her consent; to detain and question her about suspected crimes while confined in his patrol car without advising her of her of her rights as required by Miranda; to take her to the sheriff’s office and conduct more questioning without uttering a word about Miranda; to lie to her, as the district court found, by falsely representing that he possessed a valid warrant; and, finally, to subject her to charges for a drug offense without any record that he ever tested the seized substances to establish that they were narcotics.  The course of extended detention and questioning without Miranda warnings is not constitutionally problematic, insists the state’s counsel, because the deputy told the detained driver about twenty minutes into her custody that she was not, in fact, “under arrest.”  In other words, we are asked to conclude that although she was detained, in custody, expressly denied her request to go home, held in a squad car, then taken to the sheriff’s office, she was not really “under arrest” during the lengthy apprehension.

Our majority opinion need not and therefore does not address each of the claimed constitutional violations to determine that all of the evidence obtained must be suppressed.  And I will not address each point separately now, noting only that the record indicates the likelihood that none of the challenged police conduct was lawful.  By closely considering the district court’s well-reasoned answer on each point, however, officials would be reminded of some of the settled limits of police authority.


*  Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10. 


[1]The police never obtained an arrest or search warrant regarding the handgun charges.