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State v. Smith

October 15, 2002

STATE OF MINNESOTA, APPELLANT,
v.
MICHELLE MARIE SMITH, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Le Sueur County District Court File No. K901149

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Minge, Judge, and Parker Judge.*fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Application of the exclusionary rule is inappropriate when police officers conduct an investigatory stop to enforce a presumptively valid statute, which is later held unconstitutional. The officers acted reasonably, and excluding the evidence would serve no deterrent purposes.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Minge, Judge

Reversed and remanded

OPINION

In this appeal from a pretrial order suppressing evidence and dismissing charges of first- and fifth-degree controlled-substance crime, child endangerment, and driving without a license, the state argues that the district court erred in ruling that the statute prohibiting excessive automobile window tint, which was the basis for the stop, is unconstitutional. The state also argues that the exclusionary rule should not apply to evidence gathered incident to a stop based on a statute that is later determined to be unconstitutional and that the vehicle owner who was not present at the time of the stop has no standing to contest the stop and search. Because no police misconduct occurred that warrants applying the exclusionary rule for its deterrent effect, we reverse and remand without reaching the constitutional and standing issues.

FACTS

On February 2, 2001, a Le Sueur County deputy stopped respondent Glen Lee Kohman for driving a car with an excessively tinted window. Minn. Stat. § 169.71, subd. 4 (2000). The deputy testified that the car caught his attention because he could not see through its rear window. After making the stop and checking respondent Kohman, the deputy arrested him for driving without a license and impounded the car, which was owned by respondent Michelle Marie Smith. During an inventory search of the car, officers found methamphetamine and evidence of material used to manufacture methamphetamine. Officers secured a warrant to search the car more extensively and found more evidence of drug-manufacturing materials. Officers then secured a search warrant for respondents' house. This search revealed further evidence of drug manufacturing, and the officers learned that three minors lived with respondents. Respondents were charged with possession, manufacturing, and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, as well as child endangerment. See Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2000) (possession); Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2a (2000) (manufacturing); Minn. Stat. § 152.096, subd. 1 (2000) (conspiracy); Minn. Stat. § 609.378, subd. 1(b)(2) (2000) (endangerment). Kohman was also charged with driving without a license under Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 5(1) (2000). Charges were not pressed under the tinted-window statute.

On July 17, the district court held a contested omnibus hearing to consider whether officers had probable cause to charge respondents. On October 30, the court ruled that the tinted-window statute violated the equal protection provision of the Minnesota Constitution by permitting people driving vans or pick-up trucks—but not cars—to drive with excessively tinted rear and side windows. See Minn. Stat. § 169.71, subd. 4(3) (2000). The court acknowledged that the officers' conduct "was reasonable, prudent and arguably lawful at the time of the stop and resulting arrest and searches." Nevertheless, the court held that, because the stop was based on an unconstitutional statute, all evidence discovered as a result must be suppressed. The court concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for the arrest, for the warrants, and for the charges and dismissed all charges against respondents. The state moved for a rehearing, clarification, and reconsideration, which the court denied. This appeal followed.

ISSUE

Does the exclusionary rule apply to evidence obtained incident to stopping a vehicle for violating an unconstitutional law when at the time of the stop there was no reason to believe the law might be unconstitutional and there is no allegation of improper conduct by the police?

ANALYSIS

The state challenges the district court's decision that the tinted-window statute (Minn. Stat. ยง 169.71, subd 4 (2000)) violates the equal protection provision of the Minnesota Constitution. Because the exclusionary rule exists to deter police misconduct, and because no police misconduct of any kind occurred and no other special circumstances exist in this case, we reverse and remand without reaching the constitutional issue. In view of this ...


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