IN COURT OF APPEALS
(City of Blaine),
Murray Melvin Hermanson,
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 and Anne Spencer, Sweeney, Borer & Sweeney, P.A., 386 North Wabasha Street, Suite 1200, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Murray M. Hermanson, 1201 Lombardy Drive N.E., Ham Lake, MN 55304 (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.*
*Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.
The State of Minnesota challenges the district court's order dismissing the charge against respondent of driving after suspension, claiming the court erred in concluding that the police officer who stopped respondent's van did not have probable cause to do so. We reverse.
On November 5, 1997, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Officer Patrick Daly was on routine patrol in the City of Blaine. He ran a random check on a van's license plate. The check showed that the driver's license of the registered owner of the van, Murray Melvin Hermanson, was suspended. Officer Daly stopped the van, verified that the driver was Hermanson, and brought Hermanson to his squad car. Officer Daly ran a check on Hermanson's driver's license and found that his license had been suspended for failure to pay child support. Officer Daly issued Hermanson a citation for driving after suspension in violation of Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 1 (1996).
Hermanson pleaded not guilty to the charge, and the case was set for jury trial. Before trial, the district court held an omnibus hearing to determine the legality of Officer Daly's stop of Hermanson. Officer Daly testified at the hearing that the stop was based solely "on the information that [he] received after running the random check [on the van's license plate.]" The district court dismissed the charges, determining that Officer Daly did not have probable cause to stop the van. The state made a motion to the district court requesting that it reconsider its decision, which the court denied. This appeal followed.
The state argues that the district court erred in dismissing the charges against Hermanson for lack of probable cause. "The prosecuting attorney may appeal as of right * * * from any pretrial order of the trial court * * * ." Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.04, subd. 1(1).
"A brief investigatory stop requires only reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, rather than probable cause." State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 (Minn. 1996) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)). Because the facts are not in dispute, whether Officer Daly had a reasonable suspicion that justified stopping the van is a legal issue, which this court reviews de novo. See State v. Storvick, 428 N.W.2d 55, 58 n.1 (Minn. 1988) (stating that in Fourth Amendment case where facts not significantly in dispute, court analyzes testimony of police officer to determine if, as matter of law, officer's actions were justified). A police officer need not detect a violation of the vehicle and traffic laws and
must only show that the stop was not the product of mere whim, caprice or idle curiosity, but was based on "specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion."
Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921-22 (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S. Ct. at 1880).
In Pike, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that
the knowledge that the owner of a vehicle has a revoked license is enough to form the basis of a "reasonable suspicion of criminal activity" when an officer observes the vehicle being driven.
Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 922. The court further held 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.
The record shows that Officer Daly had a "reasonable suspicion of criminal activity" when he ran a random check of the van's license plate, found that the owner's driver's license was suspended, and observed someone driving the van. See Pike, 551 N.W.2d at 921. There is no evidence suggesting that Officer Daly was aware of any facts that made it unreasonable for him to assume that Hermanson was driving the vehicle. We conclude that the district court erred in dismissing the charges.