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Modaff v. Commissioner of Public Safety

July 1, 2003


Mower County District Court File No. C802895

Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Minge, Judge.


In an implied-consent action challenging the legality of a stop or seizure, implicit findings may be derived from the district court's final resolution, and the case need not be remanded for additional findings when the evidence supports the implicit findings and those findings support a determination that the seizure was based on probable cause to suspect that the petitioner was driving while impaired.

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



Appellant Stephen M. Modaff argues that the district court erred by sustaining the revocation of his driver's license under the implied-consent law because the court's findings of fact are both clearly erroneous and unsupported by the record. Because any clearly erroneous facts and unsupported findings of fact in the district court's order do not relate to Modaff's challenge to the legality of his seizure, and because there is evidence in the record to support implicit findings that the officer observed driving behavior and a traffic violation that constitute probable cause to believe Modaff was driving while impaired, we affirm.


Austin Police Officer Mark Walski testified that at 1:07 a.m., on June 8, 2002, he observed a vehicle coming from a freeway at what appeared to be a high rate of speed. The vehicle came to an abrupt stop that caused the rear of the vehicle to rise, and crossed over the normal stop line at an intersection. This driving conduct caused Officer Walski to suspect that the driver had delayed reactions, which, the officer testified, is commonly found in drunk drivers. The officer then observed the vehicle make a wide turn into the farthest driving lane, which constituted a traffic offense. Officer Walski testified that failing to obey basic traffic rules and making wide turns are common things that a drunk driver would do and that this behavior furthered his suspicion that the driver could be intoxicated.

The officer flashed his emergency lights to clear a red light at the intersection and followed the vehicle, which had turned into a parking lot and parked near the entrance to a bar and grill. The officer parked behind the vehicle, intentionally blocking it from leaving, and approached the driver's side. The officer identified the driver, appellant Stephen M. Modaff, and, after observing indicia that Modaff was intoxicated, arrested him for driving while impaired. The Commissioner of Public Safety revoked Modaff's driving privileges.

Modaff petitioned for rescission of the revocation, asserting 16 separate grounds for rescission and two and one-half single-spaced pages of "additional relief and grounds." The hearing on Modaff's petition was combined with a hearing on pretrial issues in his criminal case.*fn1 Counsel for Modaff stated at the beginning of the hearing that the only issue being pursued in each case was the legality of the stop.

The district court issued an order denying Modaff's petition to rescind the revocation of his license and denying his motion to suppress evidence in the criminal proceedings. The district court's order incorporates a memorandum setting out findings of fact. The memorandum erroneously identifies the issues before the court as whether (1) the officer had probable cause to arrest Modaff for suspicion of driving while impaired; (2) Modaff had physical control of the vehicle; and (3) the implied consent advisory violated due process.

The memorandum recites a description of Officer Walski's testimony about the events leading up to the officer's encounter with Modaff,*fn2 and describes, from police reports not in the record, what transpired after the officer blocked Modaff's vehicle in the parking lot. The memorandum fails to mention that the testimony of Modaff and his passenger contradicts the officer's testimony about Modaff's driving conduct. The memorandum asserts that "[Modaff] does not dispute the facts," but Modaff clearly disputed the officer's description of his driving conduct. The memorandum fails to address whether the officer had probable cause to stop or seize Modaff, and analyzes the ...

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