State v. Guscette, 20030177.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
Writing for the CourtKAPSNER, Justice.
Citation678 N.W.2d 126,2004 ND 71
PartiesSTATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Stephanie Jonell GUSCETTE, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 20030177.,20030177.
Decision Date13 April 2004

678 N.W.2d 126
2004 ND 71

STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Stephanie Jonell GUSCETTE, Defendant and Appellant

No. 20030177.

Supreme Court of North Dakota.

April 13, 2004.

678 N.W.2d 127
Lisa K. Fair McEvers, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee; submitted on brief

Mark A. Beauchene, Wold Johnson, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant; submitted on brief.

KAPSNER, Justice.

[¶ 1] Stephanie Guscette appealed from a conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia. We hold there is sufficient competent evidence fairly supporting the trial court's findings that Guscette had not been seized under the Fourth Amendment when she allowed a law enforcement officer to search her vehicle and that she voluntarily consented to the search of her vehicle and a purse in the vehicle. We affirm.


[¶ 2] At about 8 p.m. on February 4, 2003, Fargo Police Officer Kyle Olson stopped a vehicle driven by Guscette for a broken taillight. Olson approached Guscette's vehicle, informed her why she had been stopped, and asked for her driver's license. Olson verified Guscette had a valid driver's license, and when he returned to the vehicle, he engaged her in further conversation about automobile insurance and the whereabouts of Corey Mock. Olson ultimately asked Guscette to step out of her vehicle. After Guscette stepped out of the vehicle, Olson engaged her in further conversation about Mock and a previous encounter she had had with law enforcement officers. He ultimately informed her that he was giving her a warning and she was free to leave. Before Guscette got back into her vehicle, however, Olson asked her if she had any weapons, needles, knives, or anything else illegal in the vehicle. Guscette responded she did not, and Olson then asked her for permission to search the vehicle, which she granted. Guscette and a passenger were directed to the back of the vehicle with another officer while Olson searched the vehicle. Olson found a black purse in the front seat. Upon opening the purse, Olson found drug paraphernalia. According to Olson, after he found the drug paraphernalia, he heard Guscette tell the other officer she had consented to a search of the vehicle, but not the purse. According to Guscette, Olson found the drug paraphernalia after she objected to him searching her purse.

[¶ 3] Guscette was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. She moved to suppress evidence seized during the search of her purse. The trial court denied

678 N.W.2d 128
Guscette's motion to suppress, concluding Olson was authorized to ask Guscette to search the vehicle even though the initial stop was merely for a traffic violation. The court concluded Olson was not required to have a reasonable and articulable suspicion of any other wrongdoing to ask Guscette for permission to search the vehicle. The court also concluded Guscette's consent to search the vehicle was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances, and Olson did not exceed the scope of her consent


[¶ 4] Guscette appealed from the order denying her motion to suppress. Guscette's attempted appeal from the order denying her motion to suppress is not authorized by N.D.C.C. § 29-28-06. After the denial of her motion to suppress, however, Guscette entered a conditional guilty plea to the charge of possession of drug paraphernalia in which she, the State, and the trial court acknowledged she had reserved the right on appeal to review of the adverse ruling on her motion to suppress, and a judgment of conviction was entered. Because the record contains a subsequently entered judgment consistent with the order denying Guscette's motion to suppress and the State and the trial court approved the reservation of her right to appeal, we treat Guscette's appeal from the suppression order as an appeal from the judgment. State v. Keilen, 2002 ND 133, ¶¶ 7-9, 649 N.W.2d 224.


[¶ 5] When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we defer to the court's findings of fact and resolve conflicts in the evidence in favor of affirmance. State v. Tognotti, 2003 ND 99, ¶ 5, 663 N.W.2d 642. We will affirm a trial court's disposition of a motion to suppress unless, after resolving conflicting evidence in favor of affirmance, there is insufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the trial court's findings, or the decision is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. Our deferential standard of review recognizes the importance of a trial court's opportunity to assess the credibility of the witnesses. State v. Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 6, 662 N.W.2d 242.


[¶ 6] Guscette argues her continued detention after the time necessary to complete the initial traffic stop violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure. Guscette concedes the initial stop of her vehicle for a traffic violation was proper, and once a traffic violation has occurred and a traffic stop made, an officer may temporarily detain a traffic violator at the scene of the violation. Guscette contends, however, Olson's conduct after the time necessary to complete the traffic stop constituted an illegal seizure under the Fourth Amendment. She argues the facts and circumstances did not give Olson a reasonable suspicion she was engaged in criminal activity, and her consent to search the vehicle following the illegal seizure was tainted.

[¶ 7] The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Tognotti, 2003 ND 99, ¶ 7, 663 N.W.2d 642. In Fields, 2003 ND 81, 662 N.W.2d 242, this Court discussed an issue similar to the one raised by Guscette. There, in the context of a concededly valid traffic stop for expired license tabs, a police officer asked Fields for consent to search his vehicle after the officer had released him from the incidents of the traffic stop and reapproached

678 N.W.2d 129
him to inquire about drugs or weapons in the vehicle. Id. at ¶ 4. When Fields refused to consent to a search of his vehicle, the officer detained him until a drug detection dog arrived at the scene and detected drugs in the vehicle. Id. In Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶¶ 8-13, 662 N.W.2d 242, a majority of this Court outlined standards for a traffic stop and concluded the continued detention of Fields until a drug detection dog arrived constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment because a reasonable person in Fields' position would not have felt free to leave the scene
When conducting a traffic stop, an officer can temporarily detain the traffic violator at the scene of the violation. See State v. Mertz, 362 N.W.2d 410, 412 (N.D.1985) (citing N.D.C.C. §§ 39-07-07 and 39-07-09). The constitutionality of an investigative detention is judged under the framework established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), requiring that an investigative detention be "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place." This Court has explained that for traffic stops, "[a] reasonable period of detention includes the amount of time necessary for the officer to complete his duties resulting from the traffic stop." Mertz, at 412. Those duties, according to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, may include:
request[ing] the driver's license and registration, request[ing] that the driver step out of the vehicle, request[ing] that the driver wait in the patrol car, conduct[ing] computer inquiries to determine the validity of the license and registration, conduct[ing] computer searches to investigate the driver's criminal history and to determine if the driver has outstanding warrants, and mak[ing] inquiries as to the motorist's destination and purpose.
United States v. Jones, 269 F.3d 919, 924 (8th Cir.2001). The investigative detention may continue "as long as reasonably necessary to conduct these activities and to issue a warning or citation." Id. at 925; see also Mertz, at 412 ("[A] traffic violator is subject to the arresting officer's authority and restraint until the officer completes issuance of the traffic citation and expressly releases the violator.").
In this case, the officer issued Fields a citation for the expired tabs and expressly released Fields by saying good-bye, turning around, and starting to walk back to his vehicle. After the officer issued the traffic citation, the legitimate investigative purposes of the traffic stop were completed. See Jones, 269 F.3d at 925 (stating that once the trooper had determined that the driver was not tired or intoxicated, had verified that the driver's license and registration were valid, and had checked for any outstanding arrest warrants, the legitimate investigative purposes of the traffic stop were completed).
Once the purposes of the initial traffic stop are completed, a continued seizure of a traffic violator violates the Fourth Amendment unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion for believing that criminal activity is afoot. See Jones, 269 F.3d at 925. Therefore, the constitutional inquiry in this case is reduced to two determinations: whether Fields was "seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when he was held awaiting the arrival of the drug detection dog, and if so, whether there was a reasonable suspicion to support the seizure. See id.

678 N.W.2d 130
[¶ 8] Our inquiry first focuses on whether Olson seized Guscette when he asked to search her vehicle. Not every law enforcement contact with a citizen is a seizure, and law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment merely by approaching individuals on the street or in other public places. United States v. Drayton, 536 U.S. 194, 200, 122 S.Ct. 2105, 153 L.Ed.2d 242 (2002). In Drayton, at 201, 122 S.Ct. 2105, the United States Supreme Court explained that as long as law enforcement officers do not...

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