Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-11-37175
SYLLABUS An officer may order a driver to exit his or her vehicle for investigative purposes, without violating the protections of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions, when the officer has reasonable articulable suspicion that the person was driving while impaired.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Larkin, Judge
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge.*fn1
In this pretrial appeal, the state challenges the district court's order granting respondent's motion to dismiss a charge of driving while impaired. The state argues that the district court erred in concluding that a law-enforcement officer violated the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure when the officer ordered respondent out of a vehicle to investigate whether respondent had been driving while impaired. Because the investigative seizure was reasonable at its inception and in its scope, we reverse the district court's order and remand for further proceedings.
On December 1, 2011, a state trooper was on duty and driving on Interstate 94 near Lowry Avenue in Minneapolis at approximately 1:00 a.m. The trooper observed a vehicle stopped on the right shoulder of the freeway. The trooper activated the emergency lights on his vehicle and pulled up behind the stopped vehicle to conduct a welfare check. As he did so, he observed the passenger door open and the passenger vomiting. The trooper approached the passenger side of the vehicle and noticed a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle. Respondent Julie Ann Klamar was seated in the driver's seat. From the passenger side of the vehicle, the trooper asked Klamar what the problem was. Klamar replied that her friend, the passenger, was not feeling well and was getting sick. The trooper later testified that during the exchange, he observed that Klamar's eyes were bloodshot and watery. While standing near the passenger door, the trooper asked Klamar for her driver's license and whether she had had anything to drink. Klamar replied that she had "one drink." The trooper asked Klamar to step out of the vehicle and approach the trooper's vehicle.
Klamar got out and walked toward the back of her vehicle. The trooper also walked toward the back of the vehicle, where he met Klamar. The trooper later testified that he then noticed an odor of alcohol emanating from Klamar and that Klamar's eyes were bloodshot and watery. The trooper asked Klamar to perform field sobriety tests. Klamar agreed to do so, and she performed poorly. Next, the trooper conducted a preliminary breath test, which indicated that Klamar had an alcohol concentration of .122. The trooper arrested Klamar, and appellant State of Minnesota subsequently charged her with driving while impaired.
Klamar moved to dismiss the charge under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions, arguing that the trooper did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to support expansion of the initial welfare inquiry. The district court dismissed the charge, reasoning that "the trooper prematurely ordered [Klamar] to step out of the vehicle to perform field-sobriety tests, prior to establishing facts to support an 'objective and particularized basis' for his suspicion of illegal activity." The district court concluded that "[o]nce the trooper ordered [Klamar] out of the vehicle with his squad car directly behind [Klamar's] vehicle, [Klamar's] compliance with the trooper's request was compelled. Accordingly, . . . a seizure occurred at that point and . . . the [s]tate failed to show an articulable and reasonable suspicion for the state trooper to expand the scope of the initial welfare check." This pretrial appeal by the state follows.
When a law-enforcement officer approaches a vehicle that is stopped on the side of an interstate at an early morning hour, to check on the welfare of its occupants, encounters a driver and one passenger in the vehicle, smells a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle, and is informed by the driver that she has had one drink, may the officer order the driver to exit her vehicle for ...