Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
Karren Fulp Patterson, et al.,
File No. K896508
Kenneth Kohler, Nobles County Attorney, P.O. Box 607, Worthington, MN 56187 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Scott Swanson, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellants)
Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Harten, Judge.
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
A state trooper stopped appellants' van after observing a large, bucket-like object hanging from their rear view mirror. After detecting a fresh odor of alcohol on appellant William Patterson's breath, the trooper suspected that appellants had been drinking in their van. The trooper searched the van and found a cooler containing several beer cans, including two open cans. Inside a duffel bag that had been partially covering the cooler, the trooper found a loaded 9-millimeter Ruger handgun. In a plastic container located behind the cooler, he found a loaded .25-caliber automatic handgun and a loaded .45-caliber handgun. Appellants challenge their convictions of open bottle and firearm violations, contending that the stop and search of their van was unlawful. Because we conclude that both the stop and the search were proper, we affirm.
In reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence where the facts are not in dispute, this court "may independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the evidence should be suppressed." State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992) (citations omitted).
Appellants contend that the traffic stop of their van was unlawful. An officer may stop a motor vehicle if the officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity or a motor vehicle violation. State v. George, 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997). The basis for the stop must be more than just a mere hunch; the officer must have an objective basis to justify the stop. Id. An officer's observation of any traffic law violation, however insignificant, is an objective basis for stopping a motor vehicle. Id.; See Whren v. United States, __ U.S.__, __, 116 S. Ct. 1769, 1777 (1996) (holding that probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred is a reasonable basis for a traffic stop).
Here, the trooper's observation of a traffic violation provided an objective basis for stopping appellants' vehicle. The trooper saw a large, bucket-like object that was six inches in diameter hanging from appellants' rear view mirror. That object violates Minn. Stat. § 169.71, subd. 1, which prohibits suspending any objects between the driver and the windshield. Thus, the stop was valid.
Appellants contend that the trooper exceeded the lawful scope of his search when he continued to look for open bottles after finding the two open cans of beer in the cooler.
In United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 2173 (1982), the Supreme Court held that, if "probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search." Contrary to appellants' contention, an officer's search does not end when he finds some of what he was looking for. See State v. Collard, 414 N.W.2d 733, 736 (Minn. App. 1987) (officer may continue to search vehicle after observing open bottles in plain view), review denied (Minn. Jan. 15, 1988). The discovery of contraband may in fact give the officer probable cause to believe additional contraband may be found and thus the officer may lawfully continue to search the vehicle. See State v. Schuette, 423 N.W.2d 104, 106 (Minn. App. 1988), (officer had probable cause to search a grocery bag for open bottles, after observing open bottles in plain view).
In this case, the trooper found open bottles in a cooler in between the fronts seats of the van. The discovery of those bottles gave him probable cause to continue his search of containers where additional open bottles might be found. In searching a duffel bag that could have contained another open bottle, the trooper found a handgun. After determining that appellant William Patterson did not have a permit for the gun, the officer had probable cause to resume his search of the vehicle for additional bottles or handguns.
The trooper found two more handguns in a plastic container. Under the circumstances, we conclude that the trooper's discovery of the handguns was within the lawful scope of his search.