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Utke v. Commissioner of Public Safety

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 22, 2013

Charles Mark Utke, petitioner, Appellant,
v.
Commissioner of Public Safety, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

St. Louis County District Court File No. 69VI-CV-12-295

Gordon C. Pineo, Deal & Pineo, P.A., Virginia, Minnesota (for appellant)

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Joseph M. Simmer, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.

LARKIN, Judge

In this implied-consent case, appellant challenges the district court's order sustaining respondent's revocation of appellant's license to drive. Appellant argues that the revocation stems from an unlawful traffic stop and that his limited right to pre-test counsel was not vindicated. We conclude that the traffic stop was unlawful and therefore reverse and remand without addressing appellant's right-to-counsel argument.

FACTS

Appellant Charles Mark Utke petitioned the district court for judicial review of respondent Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety's revocation of his driver's license. Utke asserted that the underlying traffic stop was unlawful and that the arresting officer did not vindicate his limited right to pre-test counsel.

The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the petition. Breitung Police Officer Jesse Anderson testified that after midnight on March 11, 2012, he was driving northbound on County Road 104 when he observed a vehicle driven by Utke approaching in the opposite lane, from approximately 1, 000 feet away. The high beams on Utke's vehicle were illuminated. Utke dimmed his headlights as the cars approached each other. Before the two cars passed one another and while they were in close proximity, Utke briefly reactivated his high beams. The light struck Officer Anderson directly in the eyes for "[j]ust a couple of seconds." Utke testified that he activated his high beams for just one second and only did so as a courtesy flash because he believed that the squad car's high beams were illuminated.

After Utke flashed his high beams, Officer Anderson initiated a traffic stop. Officer Anderson testified that Utke's failure to dim his headlights, as required under Minn. Stat. § 169.61(b) (2012), was the sole basis for the stop. Officer Anderson observed that Utke had bloodshot and watery eyes and that an odor of alcohol emanated from inside Utke's vehicle. After Utke refused to submit to a preliminary breath test, Officer Anderson arrested him for driving while impaired.

The district court denied Utke's motion for rescission, concluding that the traffic stop was lawful.[1] This appeal follows.

DECISION

Both the United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. A police officer may, however, initiate a limited investigative stop without a warrant if the officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921-22 (Minn. 1996). Whether police have reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop depends on the totality of the circumstances, and a stop is not justified if it is "the product of mere whim, caprice, ...


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