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State v. Syhavong

May 20, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
LON SYHAVONG, APPELLANT.



Reversed Robert H. Schumacher, Judge Rock County District Court File No. K701115

Considered and decided by Randall , Presiding Judge, Schumacher , Judge, and Forsberg , Judge.*fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Contraband discovered by an officer in the course of an automobile search must be suppressed where the driver's consent to the search was obtained while the driver was detained beyond the permitted duration of a traffic stop and without reasonable suspicion of an additional criminal offense.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert H. Schumacher, Judge

OPINION

Appellant Lon Syhavong challenges the district court's pretrial order admitting evidence found during a traffic stop, arguing the police impermissibly expanded the scope of the stop to initiate an investigation unrelated to the stop's original purpose and unsupported by reasonable suspicion of other illegal activity. We reverse.

FACTS

Police officer Jeffrey Stearns stopped a car driven by Syhavong because the car had a broken right rear tail light. Stearns approached the car and saw a woman sitting in the front passenger seat; there was a large black bag on the seat between the woman and the center console. When Stearns explained the reason for the stop, Syhavong said he knew about the broken light. Stearns asked Syhavong where he and the passenger were going and where they had come from, and Syhavong answered they had come from Sioux Falls and were going to Worthington. In his field report of the incident, admitted into evidence at the omnibus hearing in lieu of testimony, Stearns stated that as he spoke with Syhavong, he noticed [Syhavong] and his passenger appeared excessively nervous compared to what I normally encounter on an equipment violation traffic stop. The driver was unable to sit still and frequently was looking at the floorboards.

Stearns asked Syhavong if there was anything illegal in the car, and Syhavong said there was not.

Stearns asked the passenger if she was Syhavong's wife or girlfriend and why the two were going to Worthington; the passenger replied they were going to visit a friend. Stearns noticed the passenger"appeared nervous" as he questioned her. Stearns then asked Syhavong if he would consent to a search of the car, and Syhavong consented. Stearns discovered methamphetamine in the car. Syhavong was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.023, subd. 2(1) (2000).

The district court denied Syhavong's motion to suppress the evidence, finding Stearns had reasonable suspicion to detain Syhavong for further investigative questioning after the completion of the traffic stop. Syhavong waived his right to a jury trial and submitted the case to the district court on stipulated facts pursuant to the procedure set out in State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980). The district court found Syhavong guilty as charged. Syhavong appeals.

ISSUE

Did the officer have reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain Syhavong once the purpose of the initial ...


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