State v. Bonacker, #26232-a-DG

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtGILBERTSON
Citation2013 S.D. 3
PartiesSTATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. ANDREW J. BONACKER, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date10 January 2013
Docket Number#26232-a-DG

2013 S.D. 3

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
ANDREW J. BONACKER, Defendant and Appellant.



OPINION FILED: January 10, 2013



Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General
Pierre, South Dakota

Attorneys for plaintiff and

Minnehaha County Public Defender's Office
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Attorneys for defendant and

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GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

[¶1.] Andrew Bonacker appeals his conviction for driving with a revoked driver's license. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] At approximately 1:00 a.m. on April 3, 2010, South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Isaac Kurtz was traveling west on 60th Street North in the City of Sioux Falls when he noticed a vehicle traveling east approaching his patrol car with its headlights at what appeared to be their high-beam setting. Kurtz later testified that the light was intense, forcing him to look to the side as the vehicle passed by. Once the vehicle had passed, Kurtz turned his patrol car around and initiated a traffic stop of the other vehicle.

[¶3.] Trooper Kurtz approached the driver's window of the stopped vehicle and explained the reason for the stop to the driver. In response, the driver, later identified as Bonacker, stated that the lights were on their low-beam setting. Further, Bonacker's front seat passenger, who identified herself as the owner of the vehicle, stated that she had previously had this problem. Bonacker demonstrated the lights by flashing them against a nearby wall. Following this demonstration, Kurtz commented, "O.K., they're really bright, huh?" Kurtz then asked to see Bonacker's driver's license. Bonacker informed Kurtz that he did not have a valid license and a subsequent check of the license revealed that it was revoked. Bonacker was then arrested and taken into custody for driving with a revoked license.

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[¶4.] Bonacker was indicted on May 20, 2010, for driving with a revoked license. Bonacker moved to suppress the evidence and statements obtained during the stop of his vehicle on the basis that, under the Fourth Amendment, the stop should have ended after Trooper Kurtz confirmed that he did not fail to dim his headlights. The magistrate court conducted a hearing on the motion to suppress and later entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order denying the motion.

[¶5.] Bonacker's court trial was conducted in magistrate court on December 3, 2010. The magistrate court found Bonacker guilty and sentenced him to ninety days in the county jail with eighty-five days suspended and a fine of $200 plus costs. Bonacker appealed his conviction to circuit court arguing that the magistrate court erred in denying his motion to suppress. After briefing, the circuit court entered a memorandum decision along with findings of fact and conclusions of law affirming Bonacker's conviction, including the magistrate court's decision on Bonacker's motion to suppress evidence. Bonacker now appeals to this Court.


[¶6.] Whether Bonacker's federal and state constitutional rights were violated when he was detained by law enforcement after it was determined that there was no longer any articulable suspicion of criminal activity.

[¶7.] Bonacker argues that Trooper Kurtz violated the prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure in both the United States and South Dakota

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Constitutions1 by continuing to detain him and by requesting his driver's license after he demonstrated his headlights and Kurtz knew that no violation had occurred. Bonacker asserts that once Kurtz knew that no violation had occurred, his basis for detaining him dissipated and he should have been allowed to leave. Therefore, Bonacker contends Kurtz's request for his driver's license was an unconstitutional detention that took longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop and that it violated his rights under the federal and state constitutions. Bonacker submits that the evidence from the unlawful detention should have been suppressed and that, because it was not, his conviction must be reversed.

Standard of Review

[¶8.] This Court outlined the general standards of review applicable to motions to suppress evidence in a similar case in State v. Overbey:

"This Court reviews the denial of a motion to suppress alleging a violation of a constitutionally protected right as a question of law by applying the de novo standard." State v. Ludemann, 2010 S.D. 9, ¶ 14, 778 N.W.2d 618, 622 (quoting State v. Madsen, 2009 S.D. 5, ¶ 11, 760 N.W.2d 370, 374). We review the trial court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard and give no deference to its conclusions of law. Id. (citing State v. Haar, 2009 S.D. 79, ¶ 12, 772 N.W.2d 157, 162). As this Court has often noted,
this court's function under the clearly erroneous standard is to determine whether the decision of the lower court lacks the support of substantial evidence, evolves from an erroneous view of the applicable law or whether, considering the entire record, we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. In making this determination, we review the evidence in a light most favorable to the trial court's decision.

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In re H.L.S., 2009 S.D. 92, ¶ 11, 774 N.W.2d 803, 807-08 (quoting State v. Baysinger, 470 N.W.2d 840, 843 (S.D. 1991) (internal citations omitted)).

2010 S.D. 78, ¶ 11, 790 N.W.2d 35, 40.


[¶9.] The Fourth Amendment generally requires a warrant based upon probable cause to support the search and seizure of a person. Id. ¶ 16, 790 N.W.2d at 41. There is an exception to the warrant requirement for investigative detentions based upon an officer's "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity. Id. (citing State v. DeLaRosa, 2003 S.D. 18, ¶ 7, 657 N.W.2d 683, 686 (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1884, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968))). Thus, an officer must have a '"specific and articulable suspicion of a violation'" of law to support a traffic stop and observation of a minor traffic violation is sufficient. See Overbey, 2010 S.D. 78, ¶ 16, 790 N.W.2d at 41 (citing DeLaRosa, 2003 S.D. 18, ¶ 8, 657 N.W.2d at 686 (citing State v. Cuny, 534 N.W.2d 52, 53 (S.D. 1995))). In State v. Littlebrave, this Court further noted that the constitutional reasonableness of an investigatory detention is judged under Terry and involves a two-part inquiry: "[f]irst, was the stop 'justified at its inception. . . . Second, were the officer's actions during the stop 'reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.'" 2009 S.D. 104, ¶ 11, 776 N.W.2d 85, 89 (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 19-20, 88 S. Ct. at 1878-79).

[¶10.] As to whether the stop here was justified at inception, the trial court concluded that Trooper Kurtz clearly had a justifiable, objective reason for stopping Bonacker's vehicle because he believed its headlights were on a high-beam setting

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in violation of South Dakota's motor vehicle laws. See SDCL 32-17-7 (making failure to dim headlights a Class 2 misdemeanor). See also State v. Akuba, 2004 S.D. 94, ¶ 15, 686 N.W.2d 406, 413 (quoting State v. Chavez, 2003 S.D. 93, ¶ 16, 668 N.W.2d 89, 95) (noting a traffic violation, however minor, creates sufficient cause to stop the driver of a vehicle). Bonacker does not challenge this determination. Rather, Bonacker challenges whether Kurtz's actions were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances justifying the stop in the first place. In that regard, Bonacker contests the trial court's conclusion that Kurtz lawfully requested his driver's license following the demonstration of the car's headlights. Bonacker argues that Kurtz should have let him go immediately after the demonstration because it established no headlight violation had occurred.

[¶11.] In support of his argument, Bonacker relies on State v. Hayen, 2008 S.D. 41, 751 N.W.2d 306. In Hayen, a police officer stopped a new pickup truck because he was unable to see the expiration date on the bottom of its temporary thirty-day dealer's license which was properly displayed on the rear driver's side window of the vehicle. A box in the back of the pickup obstructed the bottom of the license and prevented the officer from seeing the expiration date before making the stop. After the stop, the officer approached the pickup on the driver's side and walked by the license without checking the expiration date which could be easily read at that point. Instead, the officer went directly to the driver's window and asked the driver for his driver's license and proof of insurance. Only after the driver provided these documents did the officer look at the expiration date on the dealer's license and find that it was valid. The officer then returned to his patrol car to run

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a warrant and...

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