STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Christopher Alan Phelps,
Filed July 28, 1998
Huspeni, Judge, Concurring Specially
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K1973378
Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota
Street, St. Paul, MN 55101, and
Peg Birk, St. Paul City Attorney, Therese A. Skarda, Assistant City Attorney, 15 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Ira W. Whitlock, Whitlock Law Office, 906 Minnesota Building, 46 East Fourth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Short, Judge.
Christopher Alan Phelps was charged with driving after cancellation, violating a restricted driver's license, driving under the influence of alcohol, and refusing to submit to testing. The state appeals from a pretrial order suppressing evidence obtained from the stop of Phelps's vehicle. We reverse.
We will reverse a trial court's determination on a pretrial matter in a criminal prosecution only if the state demonstrates clearly and unequivocally that (1) the trial court erred in its judgment, and (2) the error will have a critical impact on the outcome of the trial absent reversal. State v. Joon Kyu Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 547 (Minn. 1987).
The state argues the trial court erred in concluding the officer's stop of Phelps's vehicle was unjustified. See State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (Minn. 1996) (holding brief investigatory stop requires only reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, rather than probable cause) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)). In determining the validity of an investigative stop, we examine the totality of the circumstances, giving due regard to an officer's training and experience in law enforcement. State v. Kvam, 336 N.W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1983) (citing United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418, 101 S. Ct. 690, 695 (1981)). An officer may make an investigatory stop of a vehicle if the officer can articulate a particular and objective basis for believing the stopped individual was engaged in criminal activity. State v. Johnson, 444 N.W.2d 824, 827 (Minn. 1989) (citing Cortez, 449 U.S. at 417-18, 101 S. Ct. at 694-95).
The record demonstrates the officer: (1) observed Phelps's vehicle stopped and partially blocking the traffic lane at 11 p.m. in an area where street-level narcotics are regularly sold; (2) witnessed an exchange, which the officer believed involved money, among individuals inside Phelps's vehicle and individuals on the street; (3) watched Phelps's vehicle from across the street for about a minute, then made a U-turn and pulled behind Phelps's vehicle; and (4) noted the individuals on the street walked "briskly" away from the vehicle after the arrival of the officer's car. Although a "specific and articulable suspicion" of a traffic violation will generally provide the minimal support needed for a "routine traffic stop" under the Fourth Amendment, it appears the trial court did not accept the officer's observation of a traffic violation. However, even without that evidence we conclude the officer's suspicion of criminal activity, based on her observations, knowledge, training, and experience, provided a lawful basis to stop Phelps's vehicle. See, e.g., State v. Combs, 398 N.W.2d 563, 565 (Minn. 1987) (holding officers had objective basis for suspecting criminal violation where officers observed passenger of vehicle in parking lot of bar at 10 p.m. with translucent cup of liquid close to her mouth, and officers believed cup was type of cup used in bar); Thomeczek v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 364 N.W.2d 471, 472 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding investigatory stop justified where officer observed vehicle legally parked late at night in area of residential construction where burglary, vandalism, or theft might occur).
The trial court erred in suppressing evidence obtained as a result of that lawful stop. Because suppression of all evidence obtained from the investigatory stop will destroy the state's case, the state has demonstrated the critical impact of the trial court's error. See Joon Kyu Kim, 398 N.W.2d at 551 (concluding critical impact shown where lack of suppressed evidence completely destroys state's case or where lack of suppressed evidence significantly reduces likelihood of successful prosecution). Accordingly, we reverse the suppression order.
HUSPENI, Judge (concurring specially)
I concur in the result reached by the majority. While I would grant great deference to the trial court's credibility determinations (it is clear that the court did not accept certain testimony of the arresting officer), I also believe that the court, in stating that the officer's report "does not articulate probable cause for an investigatory stop," held the state to a standard higher than the proper one of "reasonable articulable suspicion."
 The findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order are unclear due to the trial court's recitation of the parties' claims as opposed to making true findings and clear conclusions. See Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989) (stating when trial court prefaces comments with "petitioner claims" not making true findings and merely reciting parties' claims).