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State v. Prax

September 07, 2004


Hennepin County District Court. File No. 02039442.

Considered and decided by Wright , Presiding Judge; Kalitowski , Judge; and Parker, Judge.*fn1


To withdraw from an agreement to submit a case pursuant to the procedures set forth in State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980), a defendant must establish that the agreement and waiver of constitutional rights were not voluntarily and intelligently made.

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



On appeal from a conviction of attempted first-degree controlled substance crime, appellant argues that the methamphetamine seized in a search incident to arrest should have been suppressed because the law enforcement officer, who stopped appellant for erratic driving and running a red light, lacked probable cause to arrest him for driving while impaired. Appellant also contends that the district court erred in denying his motion to withdraw a Lothenbach stipulation. We affirm.


On May 17, 2002, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Trooper Christopher Erickson observed a brown Corvette driven by appellant Jeffery Prax drift over the lane dividers and weave within its lane. Erickson activated the squad car's video camera and followed Prax for a short distance. After observing Prax stop at a red light, proceed through the light while still red, and turn left, Erickson initiated a traffic stop.

Erickson questioned Prax about the illegal turn. Prax explained that he turned left despite the stoplight because he believed that he was turning onto a one-way street. During the conversation, Erickson observed that Prax's eyes were watery and glassy. Prax was fidgety and appeared to be anxious. Erickson also noticed that Prax was sweating and his pupils appeared dilated. Based on his observations as to Prax's condition and driving conduct, Erickson conducted field sobriety tests to determine whether Prax was impaired.

Prax was given a preliminary breath test, which registered 0.00 alcohol concentration. Prax also passed the horizontal-gaze-nystagmus test and the vertical-nystagmus test. In addition, he recited the alphabet correctly. But Prax failed an eye-convergence test when his eyes reacted slowly to light. He also displayed an elevated pulse, along with eyelid and body tremors. His sense of time also was impaired. When asked to close his eyes and touch the tip, not the pad, of his finger to the center of his nose, Prax touched the pad to his nose on some attempts and the tip on others. And on some attempts, he missed the center of his nose. Finally, when asked to count backward from 95 to 70, Prax stopped at 80 to inquire how far he was supposed to count. Based on his training*fn2 and his observations of Prax's demeanor, driving conduct, physical condition, and performance during the sobriety tests, Erickson arrested Prax for driving while impaired (DWI).

Following the arrest, Prax was transported to the Richfield Police Department, where a full search was conducted with the assistance of another officer. The officers discovered a package of methamphetamine in his crotch area and a second package of methamphetamine in his pant leg. The packages totaled 55.4 grams of methamphetamine. The officers also discovered $1,087 in Prax's possession. Prax was subsequently charged with first-degree possession of a controlled substance.

Prax moved to suppress the seized evidence, arguing that Erickson lacked reasonable articuable suspicion to support the stop and lacked probable cause to believe Prax was under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Following a hearing, the district court denied Prax's motion to suppress, holding that the stop was constitutional. The district court also concluded that, based on Prax's driving conduct, his physical appearance, and his performance during the field sobriety tests, there was probable cause to arrest Prax for DWI.

On April 29, 2003, Prax agreed to a stipulated-facts trial pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980). Under the terms of the agreement, the state would reduce the charge to attempted first-degree controlled substance offense. And if found guilty, Prax would be sentenced to 55 months' imprisonment, a downward durational departure.*fn3 Prax accepted the offer. On June ...

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