Concurring Specially, Ross, Judge Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-12-10286
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hooten, Judge
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
Considered and decided by Cleary, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's ruling that the investigatory stop by police of respondent's vehicle regarding the validity of the vehicle's license plate registration tabs was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Appellant argues that the discrepancy between information from the police officers' mobile computer and the information displayed on the vehicle was sufficient to create an objectively reasonable basis for the stop. Because we agree that the police had a reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity to justify a limited investigatory stop, we reverse.
On April 2, 2012, Officers Bart Hauge and Jeffery Binfet were driving east on Broadway Street near Industrial Boulevard in Minneapolis. The officers were on patrol, "generating proactive police work" by running "numerous [license] plates for whatever reasons" and conducting "traffic control". Officer Binfet ran the license plate number of respondent Artiase Dvon Williams's black Ford Explorer through a computer search, but offered no reason for checking the plates on that vehicle. The search results on the officers' mobile computer indicated that "the registration of this vehicle and the vehicle tabs came back to October of 2011." After Officer Binfet "ran the plate and realized that it was 2011", he and Officer Hauge observed that the tabs on the vehicle "were actually 2012." The officers wondered why there were 2012 tabs on the vehicle when the DMV only displayed that the vehicle had 2011 tabs. Officer Binfet further testified that "[u]sually there's a lag time with the DMV . . . [of] a month or two" and that since this was more than six months later, it gave him "cause to believe that maybe the tab on that vehicle [was] not correct." Based on this discrepancy, the officers stopped the vehicle.
After stopping the vehicle, Officer Hauge approached respondent, explained why they stopped his vehicle, and asked for a driver's license. Respondent indicated that his license was suspended, so Officer Hauge asked for his name and date of birth. While Officer Hauge spoke to the driver, Officer Binfet approached the passenger's side of the vehicle and "tapped on the window with [his] hand to have the passenger either open the window or unlock the door" so that he could hear the conversation on the driver's side. "The door became unlocked, [so Officer Binfet] opened up the door and squatted down," at which time he noticed a plastic container that appeared to contain marijuana. The officers then removed respondent and his passenger from the vehicle and performed a precursor search of the vehicle for additional evidence of illicit substances. In addition to the plastic container of marijuana on the front passenger's side floor, the officers found a handgun in the backseat, "a scale in the glove box," "a marijuana cigarette, or a joint, just underneath the front seat," another bag of marijuana on the front center "hump," and a box of ammunition in a bag of clothing in the back of the vehicle.
Officer Hauge told respondent that he was under arrest and discussed the vehicle's registration with him further. Respondent stated that he just bought the vehicle, and thought the registration was current. Respondent was not listed as the registered owner of the vehicle in the officer's computer search. The registration sticker's origin was never ascertained, because the officers were unable to match the number on the sticker to the vehicle.
Respondent was charged with possession of a pistol without a permit in violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.714, subd. 1(a) (2010), and operation of a motor vehicle after suspension of his driving privileges in violation of Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 1 (2010). Respondent moved for suppression of the evidence, arguing that the traffic stop was made without reasonable suspicion, that Officer Binfet opened the passenger door without reasonable articulable suspicion and intruded on respondent's reasonable expectation of privacy, and that the container of marijuana first viewed by Officer Binfet was opaque and therefore could not have provided a basis to search the vehicle any further. The prosecutor argued that the stop of respondent's vehicle was properly based on the observation of the mismatched and expired registration, and that the search of the vehicle was permissible because of the observation of the marijuana in the car.
In an order and memorandum following an omnibus hearing, the district court "found the testimony of the officers to be credible." However, after reviewing two unpublished court of appeals cases from 2002 and 2004, the district court concluded that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop respondent's vehicle. The district court granted respondent's motion to suppress the evidence found in the vehicle on this basis only, and did not ...