This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




State of Minnesota,



Daniel James Decker,


Filed October 6, 1998


Peterson, Judge

Ramsey County District Court

File No. K998545

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and

Peg Birk, St. Paul City Attorney, William L. Brown, Assistant City Attorney, 15 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)

Leslie J. Rosenberg, Special Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.



This appeal is from a pretrial order suppressing evidence discovered after police stopped respondent Daniel Decker's car. Appellant State of Minnesota challenges the district court's finding that police lacked a sufficient basis to support a reasonable suspicion that Decker had engaged in criminal activity. We affirm.


St. Paul police officers Patrick Murphy and Jennifer Knutson stopped Decker's car based on Decker's alleged failure to make a legal stop at the intersection of Geranium and Galtier. The intersection was controlled by stop signs for traffic travelling north and south on Galtier. Decker was travelling north on Galtier.

Murphy testified as follows:

While I was traveling westbound on Geranium, I noticed a vehicle that was traveling northbound on Galtier. As it approached the stop sign, it did not slow down. So I applied my brakes. And the vehicle went approximately one-half of its car length past the stop sign and then stopped.

Knutson initially testified that Decker's car "stopped about a half length after the stop sign" but later testified that Decker's car stopped "[a]pproximately a half a car length into the intersection." Knutson also testified that the stop sign was located "before the sidewalk, which is maybe five to seven feet before the intersection." Knutson testified that she believed Decker did not stop until after seeing the police car and that Murphy stopped the police car to avoid a collision with Decker's car.

The district court found:

Based on the record then the Court does find that the vehicle did stop. That in this matter the vehicle stopped prior to entering the intersection. The testimony of both officers was that the car did proceed past the stop sign about a half car length. But based on Officer Knutson's testimony there was a boulevard and a sidewalk at the stop sign. The car did in fact come to a stop. The fact that the officer saw him stop only because it saw the car does not change the fact of their testimony that the vehicle did in fact come to a legal stop. There was nothing after that point that gave the officers any reasonable suspicion which would allow them to make a traffic stop, a search, under the reasoning of Terry vs. Ohio; therefore, the Court would find that the stop was not a permitted stop and that anything that happened after that should be suppressed.


At a pretrial suppression hearing, the district court acts as factfinder, "`deciding for purposes of admissibility which evidence to believe and whether the state has met its burden of proof.'" State v. Kvam, 336 N.W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1983) (quoting State v. LaFrance, 302 Minn. 245, 246, 223 N.W.2d 813, 814 (1974)). To obtain reversal of a pretrial order suppressing evidence, the state must clearly and unequivocally establish that the district court erred in its judgment. State v. Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 547 (Minn. 1987).

Police stopped Decker based on his alleged failure to make a legal stop at the intersection of Galtier and Geranium. For an investigatory stop to be legal, the police officer must be able to point to specific, articulable facts that would lead to a reasonable suspicion that an individual is or may be engaged in criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968); see also Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 373, 113 S. Ct. 2130, 2135-36 (1993) (citing Terry). An officer can legally stop a car if the officer has probable cause to believe that the driver committed a traffic violation. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810, 116 S. Ct. 1769, 1772 (1996); see also Marben v. State, Dep't of Pub. Safety, 294 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Minn. 1980) (applying Terry to stop for suspected violation of vehicle and traffic law).

The district court concluded that Geranium was a through highway because it was not regulated by traffic control devices. See Minn. Stat. § 169.01, subds. 29, 35 (1996) (definitions of "street or highway" and "through highway"). The statutes governing entrances to through highways provide as follows:

The driver of a vehicle shall * * * stop in obedience to a stop sign, as required herein, at an intersection where a stop sign is erected at one or more entrances thereto although not a part of a through highway, and shall proceed cautiously, yielding to vehicles not so obliged to stop which are within the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard, but may then proceed.

Minn. Stat. § 169.20, subd. 3 (1996).

Every driver of a vehicle shall stop at a stop sign or at a clearly marked stop line before entering the intersection, except when directed to proceed by a police officer or traffic-control signal.

Minn. Stat. § 169.30 (1996).

Under Minn. Stat. §§ 169.20, subd. 3, 169.30, a driver has a duty "to stop at a place where he may effectively observe approaching traffic." Bohnen v. Gorr, 234 Minn. 71, 77, 47 N.W.2d 459, 463 (Minn. 1951); see also Croxen v. Salhus, 376 N.W.2d 739, 741-42 (Minn. App. 1985) (discussing duty to stop under Minn. Stat. § 169.20, subd. 3). The duty is to stop at the intersection, not at the stop sign, and the duty is determined based on standards of reasonable care. Bohnen, 234 Minn. at 77 n.2, 47 N.W.2d at 463 n.2 (citing Kezel v. Lazzini, 63 A.2d 369, 371 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1949); Olson v. Musselman, 15 A.2d 879, 883 (Conn. 1940). Stop signs generally are placed "some distance from the entrance to the through highway in order to afford approaching motorists an opportunity to stop before they reach the highway." Bohnen, 234 Minn. at 78, 47 N.W.2d at 459, 464.

Minn. Stat. § 169.01, subd. 36(a) (1996), defines intersection as

the area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines, or, if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of two highways which join one another, at, or approximately at, right angles, or the area within which vehicles traveling upon different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict.

Although Knutson at one point testified that Decker stopped halfway into the intersection, there was other evidence that Decker stopped before entering the intersection. Both Murphy and Knutson testified that Decker stopped about half a car length past the stop sign, and Knutson testified that the stop sign was located before the sidewalk, which was about five to seven feet before the intersection. The latter evidence and the statutory definition of intersection support the district court's finding that Decker stopped before entering the intersection.

The state does not assert any basis for believing that Decker committed a traffic violation other than Decker's failure to stop at the stop sign. Because a driver has a duty to stop at the intersection, not at the stop sign, Decker's failure to stop at the stop sign did not give police a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that he committed a traffic violation.

The state argues that Decker's conduct suggested he was doing something wrong. But a Terry stop must be based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-22, 88 S. Ct. at 1880. Based on all the circumstances, the officer must articulate at the omnibus hearing 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); State v. Cripps, 533 N.W.2d 388, 391 (Minn. 1995). Police did not articulate any basis for suspecting Decker of criminal activity other than his failure to stop at the stop sign. The state failed to demonstrate clearly and unequivocally that the district court erred in concluding that because police failed to articulate a sufficient basis for suspecting Decker of criminal activity, the stop of Decker's vehicle was illegal.

Decker filed a motion seeking $850 in attorney fees incurred on appeal (8.5 hours billed at $100 per hour). Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.04, subd. 2(6), provides that a defendant who is forced to respond to a pretrial appeal by the state is entitled to reasonable attorney fees and costs. We grant Decker's motion and award him $850 in attorney fees.