This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Stephen Michael Jordan,
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Filed August 27, 1996
Becker County District Court
File No. C8-95-1308
Kenneth J. Kludt, 1001 Center Ave., Ste. B, P.O. Box 1065, Moorhead, MN 56560 (for Appellant)
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 14th Floor NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)
Jeffrey S. Bilcik, Assistant Attorney General, Capitol Office Bldg., Ste. 200, 525 Park St., St. Paul, MN 55103 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court order sustaining the revocation of his driving privilege, arguing that he was subjected to an unconstitutional investigatory stop. We affirm.
Following an investigatory stop, appellant Stephen Michael Jordan was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Jordan refused to submit to alcohol testing, and his Minnesota driving privilege was revoked. The sole issue at the subsequent implied consent hearing was the lawfulness of the investigatory stop.
Deputy Roy Sweeney testified that in August 1995 he had investigated a complaint involving criminal damage to property. The complainant had alleged that Jordan drove his truck through the complainant's fence. The complainant had given Sweeney a description of the truck and its North Dakota license plate number. Sweeney had obtained a description of Jordan from the complainant's neighbor. Sweeney had run a computer check and discovered that Jordan's Minnesota driving privilege was revoked. Sweeney then called Jordan and asked him to come to the station to discuss the incident, but Jordan never appeared. No criminal charges had been filed against Jordan.
Sweeney wrote Jordan's license plate number on a pad in his car to remind him to watch for Jordan's truck. On October 5, 1995, Sweeney spotted the truck while on routine patrol. Sweeney noticed that the license plate number matched the one on his pad and that the driver matched the general description of Jordan. Sweeney then stopped the truck partly because he believed that Jordan's driving privilege remained revoked. Sweeney identified Jordan as the driver.
Jordan presented Sweeney with a North Dakota driver's license. Sweeney advised Jordan that he had information that Jordan's Minnesota driving privilege had been revoked. Jordan then presented a document indicating that he had re-tested for his Minnesota license on August 16, 1995. Sweeney ran a computer check of Jordan's driving status from the squad car, which indicated that Jordan's Minnesota driving privilege remained revoked. Jordan testified that a clerk had told him that his re-test would be entered into the computer within ten days.
D E C I S I O N
Jordan argues that the investigatory stop was unlawful. We must accept the district court's findings unless they are clearly erroneous; we independently apply the law to the facts so found. State v. Saffeels, 484 N.W.2d 429, 430 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 1, 1992). The facts set forth in Sweeney's testimony are undisputed. In addressing the resulting legal question, we "simply analyze the testimony of the officer and determine whether, as a matter of law, his observations provided an adequate basis for the stop." Berge v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985).
A limited investigatory stop is lawful if the officer is shown to have had a "particularized and objective basis for suspecting the person stopped of criminal activity." State v. Pike, __ N.W.2d __, __ (Minn. July 3, 1996) (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18, 101 S. Ct. 690, 695 (1981)).
Id. at __ (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)). The totality of the circumstances surrounding the stop must be considered, and the required threshold is very low. State v. Claussen, 353 N.W.2d 688, 690 (Minn. App. 1984).
- A brief investigatory stop requires only reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, rather than probable cause. An actual violation of the vehicle and traffic laws need not be detectable. The police must only show that the stop 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."
One basis for the stop was Sweeney's investigation of the criminal damage incident that occurred two months earlier. Jordan argues that Sweeney should not have been able to stop him merely because of his possible involvement in an unrelated crime. We reject this argument.
The United States Supreme Court has held:
United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 229, 105 S. Ct. 675, 680 (1985); see also State v. Blacksten, 507 N.W.2d 842, 846 (Minn. 1993) (upholding Terry stop to investigate articulable suspicion that defendant was involved in completed felony). We have limited the Hensley rule to felonies, holding that stops to investigate completed misdemeanors are unlawful because of the lower public concern attending such crimes. Blaisdell v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 375 N.W.2d 880, 883-84 (Minn. App. 1985), aff'd on other grounds, 381 N.W.2d 849 (Minn. 1986) (declining to express an opinion on this issue). The crime of criminal damage to property, however, could be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances and the amount of damage. See Minn. Stat. § 609.595 (1994).
- [I]f police have a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a completed felony, then a Terry stop may be made to investigate that suspicion.
Here, Sweeney had reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that Jordan had been involved in the completed felony of criminal damage to property. The complainant knew Jordan and identified him as the person who drove through her fence. She also gave Sweeney a description of Jordan's truck and its license number. Thus, Sweeney's reasonable suspicion of Jordan's involvement in the prior incident justified the stop.
Sweeney also stopped Jordan because he believed that Jordan's driving privilege was revoked. In Pike, the supreme court recently held that, because an officer may rationally infer that a vehicle's driver is its owner, the knowledge that the owner's license has been revoked provides a sufficient basis for an investigatory stop. Pike, __ N.W.2d at __. The court stated:
Id. at __. Here, Sweeney testified that the driver matched a general description of Jordan. Although the district court did not make a finding as to the credibility of this testimony, there was no evidence of any facts rendering unreasonable the assumption that Jordan was driving his truck. Therefore, under Pike, Sweeney's knowledge that Jordan's Minnesota driving privilege had been revoked justified the stop.
- We hold that it is not unconstitutional for an officer to make a brief, investigatory, Terry-type stop of a vehicle if the officer knows that the owner of the vehicle has a revoked license so long as the officer remains unaware of any facts which would render unreasonable an assumption that the owner is driving the vehicle.
Jordan argues that Sweeney's information concerning his driving status was stale (two months old). In State v. Duesterhoeft, 311 N.W.2d 866 (Minn. 1981), the officer learned of the driver's suspended license one month before the stop; the officer could not run another check at the time of the stop because of a computer problem, but he believed the driver was still under revocation. Id. at 866-87. The supreme court upheld the validity of the stop. Id. at 868. The court stated that it would have been better had the officer been able to re-check the driver's status, but it held that under the circumstances the low threshold for investigatory stops had been met. Id. Similarly, in City of St. Paul v. Vaughn, 306 Minn. 337, 237 N.W.2d 365 (1975), the stop was based on information of a suspended license obtained "a month or more" before. Id. at 339, 237 N.W.2d at 367. The supreme court held that the officer was justified in stopping the driver in the absence of knowledge of the driver's reinstatement. Id. at 342, 237 N.W.2d at 368-69. Considering that Jordan's driving privilege remained revoked as of August 1995, Sweeney's suspicion that it was still revoked in October 1995 was reasonable.
Finally, Jordan argues that the stop should not be upheld on this basis in light of his efforts to reinstate his Minnesota driving privilege in the two months preceding the incident. Jordan's actual driving status, however, is irrelevant to the issue of whether the officer, when judged by an objective standard, had reasonable suspicion that Jordan was driving after revocation of his driving privilege.
In summary, Sweeney reasonably suspected that Jordan had been involved in a completed felony and that his driving privilege remained revoked. Under the totality of the circumstances, we hold that Sweeney's stop of Jordan was lawful.