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State v. Poehler

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 10, 2018

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
James Wilmar Poehler, Appellant.

          Isanti County District Court File No. 30-CR-16-562

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; Jeffrey Edblad, Isanti County Attorney, Cambridge, Minnesota; and Scott A. Hersey, Special Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Paul P. Sarratori, Mesenbourg & Sarratori Law Offices, P.A., Coon Rapids, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Florey, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Reyes, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         A police officer who stopped a car being driven with a cracked windshield, but who identified no circumstances to indicate that he reasonably suspected that the crack limited or obstructed the driver's vision under Minnesota Statutes, section 169.71, subdivision 1(a)(1) (2018), has not established that he had reasonable suspicion to stop the car.

          OPINION

          ROSS, JUDGE

         James Poehler appeals from his convictions of driving while impaired and violating a driver's license restriction, arguing that the officer who stopped him lacked reasonable suspicion to constitutionally justify the stop. Poehler correctly argues that the officer who observed only that his windshield was "cracked" provided insufficient detail to support a reasonable suspicion that the crack obstructed Poehler's vision in violation of the obstructed-vision statute. The district court therefore wrongly relied on the observation to validate the stop. We nevertheless affirm Poehler's convictions because the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop him for not wearing a seat belt.

         FACTS

         In August 2016 Cambridge police officer Mathew Giese saw a car being driven with a cracked windshield and noticed that the driver was not wearing a seat belt. Officer Giese made a U-turn and stopped the car. The officer spoke with the driver, James Poehler, who avoided direct eye contact and slurred his words. Officer Giese discovered that Poehler had a restricted license that prohibited him from using drugs or alcohol. Poehler admitted to drinking alcohol. Officer Giese administered a preliminary breath test showing Poehler's blood-alcohol content to be 0.174.

         The state charged Poehler with driving while impaired and violating a driver's license restriction. Poehler moved the district court to suppress all evidence obtained after the stop, contending that the officer stopped him without reasonable suspicion. The district court denied the motion. Poehler and the state agreed to a stipulated-evidence trial under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.01, subdivision 4. The district court found Poehler guilty of both charges. Poehler appeals.

         ISSUES

         I. Does a police officer who observes a car operating with a crack in its windshield, regardless of the extent of the crack, have reasonable suspicion to stop the car for violating the obstructed-vision prohibition ...


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