This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Marc Steven Tolvay, petitioner,


Commissioner of Public Safety,


Filed April 17, 2007


Minge, Judge


Wabasha County District Court

File No. 79-CR-06-236



Frederic Bruno, Julie Nelson, Frederic Bruno & Associates, 5500 Wayzata Boulevard, Suite 1450, Minneapolis, MN 55416 (for appellant)


Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Kyle R. Gustafson, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, 1800 Bremer Tower, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Wright, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N


MINGE, Judge

            Appellant challenges the district court’s decision sustaining the revocation of his driver’s license under the implied-consent law, contending that the investigatory stop was constitutionally invalid.  Because we conclude that the stop of appellant’s vehicle was supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion of a traffic offense, we affirm. 


            Shortly before midnight on a Saturday, Lake City Police Officer Jeffrey Daggett stopped at a red light behind a vehicle driven by appellant Marc Tolvay.  The left-turn signal light on appellant’s vehicle was blinking.  But rather than completing a left-hand turn, appellant canceled the signal and proceeded straight through the intersection after the light turned green.  Officer Daggett decided to follow the vehicle and activated the video recorder in his squad car. 

            As appellant’s vehicle approached Lakeshore Drive, Officer Daggett observed it make a wide right turn onto that street.  Although the vehicle traveled close to the center line, it did not cross the line.  Officer Daggett continued to follow appellant for several blocks while his partner checked the status of the vehicle.  Then, based on appellant’s “improper right-hand turn,” Officer Daggett stopped appellant’s vehicle.  While speaking to appellant, the officer noted appellant had an odor of alcohol on his breath.  Appellant was tested for impairment and arrested for driving while intoxicated. 

            The Commissioner of Public Safety revoked appellant’s driving privileges under Minn. Stat. § 169A.52, subd. 4(a) (2004), the implied-consent law.  Appellant filed a petition for judicial review of the revocation, challenging the legal basis for the stop.  After the revocation hearing, the district court sustained the revocation of appellant’s driving privileges, concluding that the totality of the circumstances, including appellant’s “unusually wide right turn” and his “apparent confusion at the first intersection,” with due regard for the officer’s training and experience, provided the officer with an adequate basis for making the traffic stop.  This appeal follows. 


            The issue in this case is whether the stop of appellant’s vehicle was supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal conduct.  The issue is complicated by Officer Daggett’s mistaken belief that at the point at which appellant turned north onto Lakeshore Drive, the road was divided into four lanes and that appellant had violated the traffic law by not making his right-hand turn into the lane nearest the curb.  In fact, although the northbound portion of the road was not striped and divided, it was wide enough to be so divided even after allowing space for parking.  On appeal, as justification for the traffic stop, respondent cites Minnesota traffic law, which requires that “[b]oth the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.”  Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1(a) (2004).  This may have supported the stop of appellant’s vehicle, although it is not a reason stated by either Officer Daggett or the district court.  Nevertheless, we consider this implication of this statute because Officer Daggett’s justification for the stop – that appellant’s turn was excessively wide – has remained consistent throughout this case. 

            “In reviewing a district court’s determination[s] of the legality of a limited investigatory stop, we review questions of reasonable suspicion de novo.”  State v. Britton, 604 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. 2000).  We will not reverse the district court’s findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous.  Thompson v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 567 N.W.2d 280, 281 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997). 

            The Fourth Amendment limits the discretion of a police officer to make an investigative stop.  State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997).  Under the Fourth Amendment, officers 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 that intrusion.”  State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921-22 (Minn. 1996) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88  S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)) (quotation marks omitted).  “The factual basis required to support a [traffic] stop is minimal.”  Klotz v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 437 N.W.2d 663, 665 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. May 24, 1989).  But the stop must not be “the product of mere whim, caprice or idle curiosity.”  Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921.  “[T]he court should consider the totality of the circumstances and should remember 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) (quotations omitted). 

At the revocation hearing, Officer Daggett testified that, based on his training and experience, appellant’s cancellation of his turn signal caught his attention because “[s]ometimes impaired drivers. . . won’t use their turn signals, or, if they have their turn signals on, they might continue going straight.”  But Officer Daggett acknowledged that appellant did not violate any traffic laws when he canceled his turn signal and that the canceled signal “could mean a variety of things.”

The district court found that “[appellant’s] turn, in and of itself,” did not violate a traffic law.  But the district court concluded that appellant’s turn was “unusually wide.”  Based on the totality of the circumstances, including the officer’s observations of appellant’s apparent confusion in driving and the officer’s training and experience, the district court determined that the stop was supported by a reasonable, articulable basis and sustained the revocation of respondent’s driver’s license.

Appellant argues that because the stop was based on Officer Daggett’s mistaken beliefs, there was no objective basis for the stop.  An officer’s mistake regarding the legal or factual basis for a stop is a limited defense.  See Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 138, 98 S. Ct. 1717, 1723 (1978); State v. Anderson, 683 N.W.2d 818, 823-24 (Minn. 2004); George, 557 N.W.2d at 578-79; State v. Schinzing, 342 N.W.2d 105, 110 n.1 (Minn. 1983); State v. Pleas, 329 N.W.2d 329, 332 (Minn. 1983).  An investigatory stop or seizure is valid if the officer had a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.”  United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18, 101 S. Ct. 690, 695 (1981). 

In Anderson, an officer stopped a driver for his failure to abide by Minn. Stat.       § 169.18, subd. 11 (2002), which required drivers to move “a lane away” from a stopped emergency vehicle.[1]  Anderson, 683 N.W.2d at 820.  Anderson moved to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to the stop, arguing that the officer lacked an objective basis for the stop.  Id.  The supreme court concluded that the officer’s interpretation of the law was mistaken and held that “an officer’s mistaken interpretation of a statute may not form the particularized and objective basis for suspecting criminal activity necessary to justify a traffic stop.”  Id. at 824. 

In George, an officer stopped a motorcycle because it appeared that the motorcycle had three headlights.  George, 557 N.W.2d at 576.  But the motorcycle actually had only one headlight; the two additional lights were “auxiliary passing lamps.”  Id. at 578.  State law permits this lighting configuration.  Id. at 579.  Therefore, the supreme court concluded that the officer had no objective legal basis to reasonably suspect that George was operating his motorcycle in violation of the law.  Id. 

In Schinzing, the district court, in discussing the officer’s factual understanding, stated that so long as there is an objective basis for a search, “[an officer’s] failure to articulate that basis . . . does not destroy the validity of the search.”  Schinzing, 342 N.W.2d at 110 n.1.  In Pleas, the court recognized that an objective standard governs the determination of the adequacy of the basis for the stop and stated that “a search must be upheld . . . if there was a valid ground for the search, even if the officers conducting the search based the search on the wrong ground or had an improper motive.”  Pleas, 329 N.W.2d at 332.

The state argues in this appeal that appellant violated a traffic law and that this provides an adequate basis for the stop.  As stated earlier, Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1(a), requires that a right-hand turn be “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.”  Regardless of whether this road was a striped, four-lane highway, there is evidentiary support for the finding that appellant’s wide right-hand turn violated Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1(a).  The fact that such a violation is supported by the record, provided Officer Daggett with an objective and reasonable, articulable basis upon which to initiate the traffic stop. 

            This case is distinguishable from both Anderson and GeorgeAnderson’s conduct did not violate any laws.  Anderson, 683 N.W.2d at 822.  Similarly, the light configuration on George’s motorcycle actually complied with state law.  George, 557 N.W.2d at 579.  Here, the officer apparently stopped appellant based on his mistaken belief that the street on which appellant turned was marked as a four-lane street and that appellant improperly completed a wide right turn into the lane nearest the centerline.  Even though the officer was mistaken as to the street’s lane configuration, he maintained that appellant’s turn was close to the street’s centerline, characterizing it as extremely wide.  Such a wide right turn violates state traffic law.  See Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1(a).  Because there was an objectively legal ground for the stop, the stop was proper, and the officer’s mistake does not invalidate the officer’s action.

We acknowledge that few drivers may realize that wide turns onto streets that lack lane dividers may violate the traffic law, that wide turns may be commonplace, that law enforcement officers may rarely stop a motorist for such a turn, and that stops for such conduct may be highly discretionary.  Although this may permit arbitrary traffic stops, it is not this court’s role to rewrite the traffic laws or well-established supreme court precedent.  Prior decisions have recognized that even a violation of a minor traffic law provides a sufficient basis for an investigative stop of a vehicle.  See State v. Barber, 308 Minn. 204, 207, 241 N.W.2d 476, 477 (1976) (upholding traffic stop based on officer’s observation that vehicle’s license plate was wired on to the vehicle rather than bolted on); Gerding v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 628 N.W.2d 197 (Minn. App. 2001) (upholding investigative stop based on officer’s observation of an object hanging from vehicle’s rearview mirror), review denied (Minn. Aug. 15, 2001). 

Here, we conclude that appellant’s wide right-hand turn provided Officer Daggett with an objective basis for believing that appellant had violated a traffic law, that this is an adequate basis for initiating a traffic stop, and we affirm. 



[1] Subsequent to the Anderson decision, the statute was amended to change this requirement.  2005 Minn. Laws ch. 120, § 2 at 743-44.