Meeker County District Court File No. 47-CV-12-52
Robert D. Stoneburner, Stoneburner Law Office, Paynesville, Minnesota (for appellant)
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Adam Kujawa, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
The meaning of "covers" in Minn. Stat. § 169.64, subd. 10(a) (2010), includes equipment or material that only partially covers a headlamp, tail lamp, or reflector.
Appellant challenges his driver's license revocation, arguing that the police lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify a traffic stop under Minn. Stat. § 169.64, subd. 10(a)(2). We affirm.
Appellant Joseph Hoekstra pleaded guilty to fourth-degree driving while impaired under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(1) (2010), and the district court convicted him of that offense. Respondent Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety disqualified Hoekstra from holding a commercial driver's license, and Hoekstra petitioned for judicial review, arguing that his disqualification was the result of an unlawful traffic stop. Hoekstra also moved to consolidate his case with "the Intoxilyzer Source Code appeal."
At the implied-consent hearing, Minnesota State Patrol Trooper Casey Meagher testified as follows. On the evening of December 2, 2011, Trooper Meagher was in Meeker County driving an unmarked patrol car for "a safe and sober detail" focused on making "DUI stops and DUI arrests." While traveling on Highway 12 behind a pickup truck, he saw the truck's tail lamps, brake lights, and left-turn signal activate and the truck turn left onto Highway 24. The truck pulled onto the right shoulder of Highway 24 and either stopped or nearly stopped. Although Trooper Meagher saw no improper driving, he pulled behind the truck to determine whether the driver needed assistance. Trooper Meagher activated his rear emergency lights, believing that the truck's driver could not see them.
The truck then pulled back onto the road and, as it did, Trooper Meagher observed "covers over the top of the taillights" on the truck. The covers consisted of "adhesive" "solid plastic" that went "over the top of th[e] taillight lens." The covers were after-market accessories with horizontal plastic stripes "every inch or inch and a half . . . going from one side of the taillight lens to the other side as a decorative cover over the top" of the lens. According to Trooper Meagher, the covers reduce the tail lamps' light and make the tail lamps "blend in more with the vehicle." Trooper Meagher activated his vehicle's overhead emergency lights, and the truck pulled back over to the right shoulder and stopped. Trooper Meagher approached the truck and ultimately arrested Hoekstra for driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Hoekstra testified that the tail-lamp coverings on his truck were made of hard plastic, that they "block[ed] portions" of the tail lamps, and that they were on the tail lamps when he purchased the used truck approximately two months before his arrest. After his arrest, he attempted to remove the coverings but was unable to do so, stating that he has experience replacing headlamps or tail lamps but that these coverings "don't come off." He explained: "I struck a screwdriver in there and tried to get between the taillight and the trim. . . . I . . . tr[ied] to pry them off but it'll . . . take [the] lens and everything right off, it'll break the taillight."
The district court rejected Hoekstra's challenge to the validity of the traffic stop, reasoning that Trooper Meagher had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Hoekstra violated Minn. Stat. § 169.64, subd. 10(a)(2)'s tail-lamp-cover prohibition. But the court stayed Hoekstra's case for the duration of "the Intoxilyzer Source Code appeal." After the supreme court filed its opinion in In re Source Code Evidentiary Hearings in Implied Consent Matters, 816 N.W.2d 525 (Minn. 2012), the district court denied Hoekstra's petition to rescind his license revocation, ...