City of Devils Lake v. Grove

Decision Date28 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 20070292.,20070292.
Citation755 N.W.2d 485,2008 ND 155
PartiesCITY OF DEVILS LAKE, Plaintiff and Appellant v. David GROVE, Defendant and Appellee.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

MARING, Justice.

[¶ 1] The City of Devils Lake appeals a district court order granting David Grove's motion to suppress evidence. Grove moved to suppress the results of sobriety tests conducted after law enforcement officers transported him from the scene of a traffic stop to the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center. We hold that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer's transport of Grove away from the scene of the traffic stop constituted a de facto arrest because it was not constitutionally justified by the officers' reasonable and articulable suspicion that Grove had been driving under the influence. There is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the district court's findings, and the decision to grant Grove's motion to suppress is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. We, therefore, affirm the district court order granting Grove's motion to suppress.

I

[¶ 2] A law enforcement officer stopped Grove in February for operating a vehicle without taillights. The record reveals that, during the stop, Grove stepped out of his vehicle. The officer smelled alcohol on Grove's breath when talking to Grove, who walked to the rear of the vehicle to check his taillights. The officer continued talking to Grove while examining his license and insurance card.

[¶ 3] After smelling alcohol on Grove's breath and conversing with Grove, the officer asked Grove to submit to field sobriety tests. Grove agreed, and the officer demonstrated the one leg stand test. The officer and Grove discussed how cold it was at the scene. The officer suggested Grove sit in the officer's heated police car. The district court found that Grove "welcomed" this invitation. No field sobriety tests were performed outdoors at the scene of the stop, nor were any performed inside the police car.

[¶ 4] A senior officer arrived at the scene. The officers decided to move the field test site to the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center. The officers told Grove he was not under arrest but was detained for the purpose of conducting field sobriety tests. The officers searched Grove before putting him in the backseat of a police car. The officers transported Grove several blocks to the Law Enforcement Center. Grove was not permitted to move his vehicle at the scene of the stop before being transported. An officer moved it off the roadway. Grove failed sobriety testing at the Law Enforcement Center and was charged with driving under the influence.

[¶ 5] Before trial, Grove moved to suppress the test results obtained at the Law Enforcement Center. Following a hearing, the district court granted Grove's motion to suppress and dismissed the complaint against Grove. It found that the officers could have established probable cause for Grove's arrest by completing several field sobriety tests from inside the police car while at the scene of the traffic stop. Although there was no indication Grove objected to moving the test site to the Law Enforcement Center, the district court held Grove had no choice regarding the location where the testing would occur. The district court concluded, "a reasonable person in Grove's situation would have believed he was under arrest when removed from the stop scene and transported to the [Law Enforcement Center] by police in the back of the patrol car." Thus, the district court granted Grove's motion to suppress, concluding the officers unlawfully arrested Grove because they failed to establish probable cause before making the arrest.

[¶ 6] The City appeals the district court's suppression of Grove's test results, arguing the district court erred in its conclusion that Grove was arrested without probable cause.

II

[¶ 7] In reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence, this Court defers to the district court's findings of fact and resolves conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. State v. Washington, 2007 ND 138, ¶ 9, 737 N.W.2d 382. This Court will affirm a district court decision regarding a motion to suppress if there is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the district court's findings, and the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. "Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law." Id.

III

[¶ 8] The Fourth Amendment, which applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 207, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979). "To realize this protection of individual rights, all evidence obtained by unreasonable searches and seizures is inadmissible against the defendant at trial." State v. Linghor, 2004 ND 224, ¶ 4, 690 N.W.2d 201. "The touchstone of our analysis under the Fourth Amendment is always `the reasonableness in all the circumstances of the particular governmental invasion of a citizen's personal security.'" Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 108-09, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977) (citation omitted). In determining the reasonableness of a search or seizure, the public interest must be balanced with an "individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by police officers." State v. Gay, 2008 ND 84, ¶ 14, 748 N.W.2d 408.

[¶ 9] Under the Fourth Amendment, a seizure occurs "whenever an officer stops an individual and restrains his freedom." Id. A "person has been `seized' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave." State v. Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 11, 662 N.W.2d 242.

[¶ 10] An arrest is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. City of Jamestown v. Jerome, 2002 ND 34, ¶ 5, 639 N.W.2d 478. An arrest occurs when circumstances exist that would cause a reasonable person to conclude he was under arrest and not free to leave. State v. Anderson, 2006 ND 44, ¶ 22, 710 N.W.2d 392. The existence of an arrest is a question of law. Id. at ¶ 23. "An arrest is made by an actual restraint of the person of the defendant or by defendant's submission to the custody of the person making the arrest." N.D.C.C. § 29-06-09. "[F]ormal words of arrest are not a condition precedent to the existence of an arrest." State v. Anderson, 336 N.W.2d 634, 639 (N.D.1983). An "officer's subjective intent or outward statements do not necessarily control whether, or when, a party is under arrest." Linghor, 2004 ND 224, ¶ 14, 690 N.W.2d 201.

[¶ 11] An arrest must be supported by probable cause. Jerome, 2002 ND 34, ¶ 5, 639 N.W.2d 478. "Probable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within police officers' knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in believing an offense has been or is being committed." Hoover v. Director, North Dakota Dept. of Transp., 2008 ND 87, ¶ 9, 748 N.W.2d 730. To "determine whether an officer had probable cause to arrest an individual, [this Court examines] the events leading up to the arrest, and then decide[s] whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to probable cause." Washington, 2007 ND 138, ¶ 12, 737 N.W.2d 382 (quoting Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371, 124 S.Ct. 795, 157 L.Ed.2d 769 (2003)). "Probable cause to arrest a driver for driving under the influence exists if the police officer (1) observes some signs of physical or mental impairment, and (2) has reason to believe the driver's impairment is caused by alcohol." Sayler v. North Dakota Dept. of Transp., 2007 ND 165, ¶ 19, 740 N.W.2d 94. Detection of the odor of alcohol, observation of signs of impairment, and failure of field sobriety tests are relevant factors in determining probable cause to arrest a driver for driving under the influence of alcohol. See Kahl v. Director, North Dakota Dept. of Transp., 1997 ND 147, ¶ 17, 567 N.W.2d 197.

[¶ 12] Another type of Fourth Amendment seizure is an investigative stop of an automobile. See City of Grand Forks v. Mitchell, 2008 ND 5, ¶ 7, 743 N.W.2d 800. "When conducting a traffic stop, an officer can temporarily detain the traffic violator at the scene of the violation." Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 8, 662 N.W.2d 242. An investigative stop must be supported by an officer's reasonable and articulable suspicion. Mitchell, at ¶ 7. "The reasonable suspicion standard is less stringent than probable cause" and requires more than a "mere hunch." State v. Corum, 2003 ND 89, ¶ 10, 663 N.W.2d 151.

[¶ 13] The constitutionality of an investigative detention is judged under the framework established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), which requires "that an investigative detention be `reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.'" Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 8, 662 N.W.2d 242. In Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983) (citation omitted), the Supreme Court explained,

The predicate permitting seizures on suspicion short of probable cause is that law enforcement interests warrant a limited intrusion on the personal security of the suspect. The scope of the intrusion permitted will vary to some extent with the particular facts and circumstances of each case. This much, however, is clear: an investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. Similarly, the...

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