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State v. Henning

July 31, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
JOEL ROBERT HENNING, APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Minnesota Statutes § 168.0422 (2002), which authorizes stops of motorists based solely on the presence of special series registration plates, is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution.

The presence of special series registration plates issued pursuant to Minn. Stat. §á168.041, subd. 6 (2002) or Minn. Stat. § 169A.60, subd. 13 (2002), does not amount to reasonable articulable suspicion justifying a stop of a motorist.

Reversed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, Justice

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

This case involves a challenge to an investigative stop made pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 (2002). Appellant Joel Robert Henning was charged in Olmsted County with driving after revocation, Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 2 (2002), no driver's license in possession, Minn. Stat. § 171.08 (2002), and no current proof of insurance, Minn. Stat. §á169.791 (2) (2002).*fn1 Appellant moved to dismiss the charges for the following reasons: 1) there was no reasonable articulable suspicion to justify the stop of the vehicle, and 2)áMinn. Stat. §á168.0422 is unconstitutional. An omnibus hearing was held in Olmsted County District Court; the arresting officer was the only witness to testify. The court issued an omnibus order concluding: 1) Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 is unconstitutional; 2) the fact that the vehicle carried a WZ series plate provided reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity justifying the stop.

Appellant, pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980), agreed to stipulate to the facts contained within the police reports and his certified driving record. A bench trial was held on May 11, 2001, in Olmsted County District Court. In an order and memorandum, the court incorporated the ruling from the earlier omnibus hearing concluding that Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 is unconstitutional and the fact that defendant's vehicle carried special WZ series plates provided a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity justifying a stop. The court found appellant guilty of driving after revocation, Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 2, and no driver's license in possession, Minn. Stat. §á171.08.

Appellant appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court of appeals held that by applying for and displaying special series plates issued pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 168.041, subd. 6, a party implicitly consents to a vehicle stop based solely on the display of those plates and concluded Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 is constitutional under both the federal and state constitutions. State v. Henning, 644 N.W.2d 500 (Minn. App. 2002). We reverse.

On July 12, 2000, at 7:30 p.m., an Olmsted County deputy sheriff, while on patrol in Rochester, Minnesota, noticed a vehicle with special series registration plates with the first two letters WZ. The deputy followed the vehicle, but did not observe any inappropriate driving, recognize the driver, discern any other traffic or other violations, nor did he run a vehicle registration check. The deputy stopped the vehicle being driven by appellant without reasonable suspicion that appellant was involved in any criminal activity. The vehicle was registered to appellant's father. The regularly issued registration plates on that vehicle had been impounded April 2, 2000, on account of appellant's prior DUI conviction. The deputy testified that the only reason appellant was stopped was because his vehicle had special series registration plates issued when the previous plates were impounded because the operator of the vehicle was driving under the influence.

According to the deputy, appellant initially told the deputy that he knew he could be stopped based on the registration plates he had on the vehicle. However, appellant went on to tell the deputy that he had no reason to pull him over. Appellant expressed his belief that to pull him over the deputy needed a reason in addition to the registration plates. There were no indicators that appellant had been consuming alcohol. Appellant did not have a valid driver's license in his possession at the time of the stop because his driver's license had been revoked. Appellant was cited for driving after revocation, Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 2, no driver's license in possession, Minn. Stat. § 171.08 and no current proof of insurance, Minn. Stat. § 169.791 (2).

An omnibus hearing was held and the court issued an order concluding that Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 is unconstitutional, but that the presence of the special series plates provided the deputy with reasonable articulable suspicion to justify the stop of appellant's vehicle. The parties stipulated to the police reports and appellant's prior record for the purposes of a bench trial. The court convicted appellant of driving after revocation, Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 2 (2002) and no driver's license in possession, Minn. Stat. §á171.08 (2002). It adopted the conclusions from the earlier omnibus hearing that Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 is unconstitutional, but the special series plates provided reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop. Appellant was ordered to pay a fine of $300 plus a $35 surcharge and a $5 library fee, with sentence stayed pending appeal. On appeal, the court of appeals held that by applying for and receiving special series plates, a party implicitly consents to police stops for the purpose of determining whether the driver has a valid license, based solely on those registration plates, and that Minn. Stat. §á168.0422 did not violate the state or federal constitutions. Henning, 644áN.W.2d at 502-04.

I.

Appellant argues that Minn. Stat. § 168.0422 is an unconstitutional attempt to override the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Greyeagle, 541 N.W.2d 326 (Minn. App. 1995); violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and its counterpart, Article I, Sectioná10 of the Minnesota Constitution; unconstitutionally interferes with and chills protected activities; and cannot form the sole basis for the stop of a motor vehicle.

We review the constitutionality of a statute de novo. State v. Grossman, 636áN.W.2d 545, 548 (Minn. 2001). "Statutes are presumed constitutional." Id. The party challenging the statute must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the statute violates the constitution. Id.

Minnesota Statutes § 168.0422 provides:

A peace officer who observes the operation of a motor vehicle within this state bearing special series registration plates issued under section 168.041, subdivision 6, or 169A.60, subdivision 13, may stop the vehicle for the purpose of determining whether the ...


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