Hennepin County District Court File No. 03069245.
1. The occupant of a parked car is seized when a uniformed officer uses a law enforcement vehicle with emergency lights activated to partially block movement of the parked car, awakens the occupant, instructs the occupant to unlock the door, and opens the door to check on the occupant.
2. A law enforcement officer who receives a citizen report of an unconscious occupant in a vehicle has a reasonable basis for conducting a limited emergency check on the welfare of the occupant.
3. Evidence of criminal activity reasonably apparent in conducting an emergency welfare check is not the result of an improper search or seizure and is admissible.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Minge, Judge
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*fn1
In this appeal from a conviction for third-degree driving while impaired, appellant challenges the district court's refusal to suppress the evidence and dismiss the charge. Because we find that appellant was seized and that the seizure was based on a reasonable, limited emergency check on appellant's welfare, we affirm.
Appellant Christine Louise Lopez was charged with third-degree driving while impaired in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(1), .26 (2002), and driving with an alcohol concentration of .10 or more in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(5), .26 (2002). On September 21, 2003, an employee from the Kohl's Department Store called police after several customers informed Kohl's that they saw someone unconscious in a car in the parking lot. One customer stated, "[t]here's something weird going down with a car in the parking lot." Around 8:11 p.m., Officer Laurel Slawson responded to the call, entered the Kohl's parking lot with her emergency lights activated, and saw several dozen vehicles in the parking lot. The officer spotted appellant's vehicle legally parked with appellant inside.
With the emergency lights still activated, Officer Slawson partially blocked appellant's vehicle. Neighboring parking spaces were vacant and the officer testified that appellant would have been able to leave by backing up. After parking, the officer approached appellant's vehicle and observed appellant was sitting in the driver's seat, apparently unconscious, her head was against the window, her hands were on her lap, and she was breathing. The officer had to pound on the driver's window five or six times to arouse appellant. When appellant awoke, she appeared disoriented, and Officer Slawson instructed her to unlock and open the door. Appellant struggled to unlock the door, and Officer Slawson assisted by shining her flashlight on the unlock button.
Once appellant unlocked the door, the officer opened the door and smelled alcohol. Additionally, Officer Slawson observed that appellant's eyes were bloodshot, glassy, and watery; her speech was very slurred; and her movements were very slow. Appellant exited her vehicle. Officer Slawson then administered several field sobriety tests, which appellant failed, and a preliminary breath test, which she also failed. Appellant was arrested and charged with two counts of third-degree DWI in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(1), (5), .26.
Appellant moved to suppress evidence seized and sought dismissal of all charges, asserting that she was illegally seized. The district court held a hearing on December 16, 2003, and denied appellant's motion. Appellant waived her right to a jury trial, submitted the case to the district court on stipulated facts and was convicted of one count of driving while ...