State v. Ostby

Decision Date23 September 2014
Docket NumberNo. 20130411.,20130411.
Citation853 N.W.2d 556
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Arthur Bruce Lanakila OSTBY, Jr., Defendant and Appellant.

Gary E. Euren, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Laura L. Reynolds, Fargo Public Defender Office, Fargo, N.D., for defendant and appellant.


McEVERS, Justice.

[¶ 1] Arthur Bruce Lanakila Ostby, Jr., appeals from a criminal judgment entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia. We conclude the district court did not err in denying Ostby's suppression motion, Ostby's due process rights were not violated by the State's failure to preserve evidence, and the evidence is sufficient to sustain the conviction. We affirm.


[¶ 2] On October 13, 2010, Fargo law enforcement officers conducted a controlled drug buy in which they had a confidential informant arrange to buy methamphetamine from M.B., an unwitting go-between. A detective and the informant picked M.B. up and drove to a convenience store where M.B. had arranged to meet a person who would provide her with the methamphetamine. M.B. was given $500 for the purchase and she got out of the vehicle and walked around the building where other officers on the scene saw her enter a black Nissan. M.B. returned to the detective's vehicle with the methamphetamine about seven minutes later. Another officer at the scene radioed his observations to other officers in the surveillance team and described the black Nissan.

[¶ 3] A police sergeant, who was accompanied by another officer, followed the black Nissan. When the sergeant observed the black Nissan veer over a solid white line as it entered onto the eastbound ramp leading to Interstate 94, he initiated a traffic stop. The officers learned that the driver, Ostby, had a suspended license and several outstanding warrants for his arrest. Ostby was handcuffed and placed under arrest, and a search of his person revealed methamphetamine and a glass pipe. Ostby received permission to smoke a cigarette, and he asked one of the officers to retrieve a lighter from the center console between the front seats of the black Nissan. The officer found a baggie of methamphetamine on top of the lighter in the console. Officers then searched the vehicle and found multiple plastic baggies, two digital scales, and three bags of methamphetamine. The officers took into custody the items from the vehicle they believed to be pertinent to the case, photographed other items, and left the remainder of the items in the vehicle. Items not taken into evidence included blankets, jackets, a helmet, fishing poles and letters addressed to Ostby. No cash was found. The vehicle was impounded, but an impound inventory was not performed in violation of police department policy. The vehicle, which was not registered in Ostby's name, was sold at auction along with the items remaining in the vehicle after no one claimed them.

[¶ 4] Ostby was charged with class A felony possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver in violation of N.D.C.C. § 19–03.1–23(1) and class C felony possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of N.D.C.C. § 19–03.4–03. Ostby moved in limine to suppress evidence, claiming the traffic stop was pretextual and there was no reasonable and articulable suspicion to validate the stop. The district court denied the motion. During the trial, Ostby's attorney questioned officers about their failure to preserve evidence and requested an adverse-inference instruction based on NDJI–Civil C–80.30 (2001), which the court gave to the jury.

The jury found Ostby guilty of both charges.


[¶ 5] Ostby argues the district court erred in denying his motion in limine to suppress the evidence because it was the fruit of a “pretextual traffic stop” and the officers had no reasonable and articulable suspicion that he had violated the law. The State claims Ostby cannot raise this issue because he appealed only from the criminal judgment and did not appeal from the order denying the suppression motion. However, an order denying a suppression motion under N.D.C.C. § 29–28–06 is not appealable in itself, but is reviewable in an appeal from the subsequently entered criminal judgment. See, e.g., State v. Pederson, 2011 ND 155, ¶ 7, 801 N.W.2d 723, State v. Decoteau, 2004 ND 139, ¶ 7, 681 N.W.2d 803 ; State v. Klodt, 298 N.W.2d 783 n. 1 (N.D.1980).

[¶ 6] Our standard for reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence is well established:

In reviewing a district court decision on a motion to suppress, we give deference to the district court's findings of fact and we resolve conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. State v. Tognotti, 2003 ND 99, ¶ 5, 663 N.W.2d 642. We “will not reverse a district court decision on a motion to suppress ... if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the court's findings, and if the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.” State v. Gefroh, 2011 ND 153, ¶ 7, 801 N.W.2d 429. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law. Id.

State v. Reis, 2014 ND 30, ¶ 8, 842 N.W.2d 845. Whether facts support a reasonable and articulable suspicion is a question of law fully reviewable on appeal. See, e.g., State v. Wolfer, 2010 ND 63, ¶ 5, 780 N.W.2d 650 ; State v. Gregg, 2000 ND 154, ¶ 20, 615 N.W.2d 515.

[¶ 7] In this case, the district court ruled the traffic stop was legal based on the sergeant's observation of Ostby crossing over the solid white line on the road in violation of N.D.C.C. § 39–10–17(1). The court further ruled the traffic stop was legal because the sergeant “had a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity based upon law enforcement's observations at the controlled drug buy.” Ostby argues the stop was illegal because the sergeant “did not describe any safety issues” associated with “going over a solid white line,” and the stop was “pretextual” because the officers suspected the person driving the black Nissan was involved in the controlled drug buy.

[¶ 8] Law enforcement officers may legally stop a moving vehicle for investigation if the officers have reasonable and articulable suspicion the driver has violated or is violating the law. See, e.g., Bartch v. North Dakota Dep't of Transp., 2007 ND 201, ¶ 7, 743 N.W.2d 109 ; Zimmerman v. North Dakota Dep't of Transp. Dir., 543 N.W.2d 479, 481 (N.D.1996). Ostby's argument about the pretextual nature of the traffic stop is misplaced because the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that its cases foreclose any argument that the constitutional reasonableness of traffic stops depends on the actual motivations of the individual officers involved.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996). Therefore, this Court has often said that traffic violations, even if pretextual, provide a lawful basis to conduct an investigatory vehicle stop, and evidence discovered during those stops is admissible. See, e.g., State v. Oliver, 2006 ND 241, ¶ 6, 724 N.W.2d 114 ; State v. Bartelson, 2005 ND 172, ¶ 8, 704 N.W.2d 824 ; State v. Higgins, 2004 ND 115, ¶ 11, 680 N.W.2d 645 ; State v. Loh, 2000 ND 188, ¶ 10, 618 N.W.2d 477 ; Wheeling v. Director of N.D. Dep't of Transp., 1997 ND 193, ¶ 9, 569 N.W.2d 273. The severity of an observed traffic violation is of no consequence:

“It is well settled, traffic violations, even if considered common or minor, constitute prohibited conduct which provide officers with requisite suspicion for conducting investigatory stops,” Hanson v. ND Dep't of Transp., 2003 ND 175, ¶ 15, 671 N.W.2d 780, but an officer is not required to “observe a motorist violat[e] a traffic law or ... rule out every potential innocent excuse” before initiating a traffic stop to investigate. State v. Mohl, 2010 ND 120, ¶ 7, 784 N.W.2d 128. There may be circumstances when conduct, even though completely lawful, “might justify the suspicion” that criminal activity is underway. Kappel v. ND Dep't of Transp., 1999 ND 213, ¶ 10, 602 N.W.2d 718.

Pesanti v. N.D. Dep't of Transp., 2013 ND 210, ¶ 9, 839 N.W.2d 851.

[¶ 9] The practicable lane statute provides [a] vehicle must be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and may not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.” N.D.C.C. § 39–10–17(1). We have upheld traffic stops based on violations of the practicable lane statute in the past. See Wolfer, 2010 ND 63, ¶¶ 6–8, 780 N.W.2d 650 ; State v. Burris, 545 N.W.2d 192, 193–94 (N.D.1996). The parties in this case agreed that the suppression motion would be submitted to the district court under N.D.R.Ct. 3.2, and no hearing on the motion was held. One of the exhibits submitted to the court was a Fargo Police Department report, in which the sergeant who initiated the stop stated he:

was southbound on University Drive approaching I94. There was a black Nissan in front of me with ND plate HVP596. The vehicle was in the right lane for southbound traffic on South University Drive. As the vehicle went underneath the Interstate, it stayed in that lane and at the last possible second, the vehicle veered over the solid white line to get onto I94 eastbound on-ramp. The driver did turn his turn signal on right as he was crossing over the solid white line.
I turned to get behind the vehicle and stopped the vehicle on I94, right east of the University Drive overpass.

[¶ 10] Most of Ostby's argument about the alleged invalidity of the traffic stop centers on his assertion that it was “pretextual.” But, as we have explained, whether the stop was pretextual is irrelevant. Although Ostby relies on the sergeant's failure to “describe any safety issues” involved with his crossing the solid white line, in Wolfer, 2010 ND 63, ¶ 7, 780 N.W.2d 650...

To continue reading

Request your trial
7 cases
  • State v. Brossart
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • January 12, 2015
    ...and giving the prosecution the benefit of all inferences reasonably to be drawn in its favor.’ ” State v. Ostby, 2014 ND 180, ¶ 20, 853 N.W.2d 556 (quoting State v. Coppage, 2008 ND 134, ¶ 24, 751 N.W.2d 254 ). The defendant has the burden to show the evidence, viewed in the light most favo......
  • Golden Eye Res., LLC v. Ganske
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • September 23, 2014
    ... ... Citizens State BankMidwest v. Symington, 2010 ND 56, 19, 780 N.W.2d 676 (quoting Des Lacs Valley Land Corp. v. Herzig, 2001 ND 17, 8, 621 N.W.2d 860 ); see ... ...
  • State v. Owens
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • March 24, 2015
    ...violation.IV[¶ 15] Owens argues the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. [¶ 16] In State v. Ostby, 2014 ND 180, ¶ 20, 853 N.W.2d 556 (quoting State v. Coppage, 2008 ND 134, ¶ 24, 751 N.W.2d 254), we recently outlined our standards for reviewing sufficiency of the evidence c......
  • State v. Kolstad
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • May 7, 2020
    ...evidence was destroyed by, or at the direction of, a state agent who intended to thwart the defense." State v. Ostby , 2014 ND 180, ¶ 15, 853 N.W.2d 556 (quoting Steffes , 500 N.W.2d at 613 ). An act of bad faith on the part of the police is relevant because it leads to an inference that th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT