State v. Skarsgard, 20060304.

Citation2007 ND 160,739 N.W.2d 786
Decision Date16 October 2007
Docket NumberNo. 20060305.,No. 20060304.,20060304.,20060305.
PartiesSTATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Rockwell D. SKARSGARD, Defendant and Appellant City of Burlington, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Rockwell D. Skarsgard, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
739 N.W.2d 786
2007 ND 160
STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Rockwell D. SKARSGARD, Defendant and Appellant
City of Burlington, Plaintiff and Appellee
Rockwell D. Skarsgard, Defendant and Appellant.
No. 20060304.
No. 20060305.
Supreme Court of North Dakota.
October 16, 2007.

[739 N.W.2d 788]

Mark Ashley Flagstad, Assistant State's Attorney and City Prosecutor, Minot, N.D., for plaintiffs and appellees, State of North Dakota and City of Burlington.

Mark Samuel Douglas, North Dakota Public Defenders' Office, Williston, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

CROTHERS, Justice.

[¶ 1] Rockwell D. Skarsgard appeals from criminal judgments entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor and driving under suspension. We conclude the stop of Skarsgard's vehicle was constitutionally permissible, the district court did not erroneously admit the results of Skarsgard's blood-alcohol test into evidence or erroneously fail to grant his motion for a mistrial, Skarsgard's excessive bail claim is moot, Skarsgard is not entitled

739 N.W.2d 789

to reversal of the convictions based on the conditions of his pretrial incarceration, and the court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing him to one year in prison. We affirm.


[¶ 2] At 2:39 p.m. on September 8, 2005, Burlington Police Chief Phillip K. Crabb received a call from Dodie Stevens, a United Community Bank employee, who told him a green Chrysler with no license plates had "suspiciously" driven through the bank's parking lot twice. She also told Crabb the driver looked intoxicated and the vehicle was westbound. Crabb responded to the call, spotted the moving vehicle, and drove behind it. Crabb stated in his report of the incident that he "noticed there were no plates of any sort or any type of registration on the vehicle" and he "personally recognized the driver as a suspended driver from a past call." After Crabb activated his emergency lights, the driver pulled the green Chrysler off the road into the parking lot of a car wash. When Crabb got out of his patrol car, the driver started to drive away. Crabb got back in his patrol car and followed the vehicle until it stopped in the parking lot. The driver started to drive off again when Crabb got out of the patrol car and he yelled to the driver to stop. The driver finally stopped the vehicle and Crabb confirmed through a concealed weapons permit that the driver was Skarsgard. Crabb detected a strong odor of alcohol on Skarsgard, informed him he was stopped for having no registration, and arrested him for driving under suspension. Skarsgard failed a field sobriety test and eventually agreed to submit to a blood-alcohol test which was administered at a Minot hospital. Skarsgard was arrested for driving under the influence.

[¶ 3] Skarsgard was incarcerated in the Ward County Jail but was released on bond pending trial. Shortly after his release, he was arrested for driving under the influence and driving under suspension. He was again released on bond, but was arrested on May 5, 2006, for driving under the influence and driving under suspension. Skarsgard posted bond, but was arrested on May 9, 2006, for actual physical control of a motor vehicle, driving under suspension, and disorderly conduct. The State's motion to revoke bond was granted by the court. Skarsgard requested a bond hearing, and the court set bond at $25,000 cash. Skarsgard's bond was posted by his girlfriend, and he was again released. However, on September 27, 2006, the district court revoked the bond at the request of the bond remittetur, who alleged that Skarsgard "has violated specific conditions of his release on bond, which were imposed by the Court."

[¶ 4] While incarcerated at the Ward County Jail, Skarsgard made numerous complaints to jail personnel and the court that the facility was not sufficient to accommodate his medical needs because of his cardiovascular, orthopaedic, and mobility problems. He was taken to a hospital emergency room on three occasions during his pretrial incarceration, and on each occasion, the attending physicians indicated Skarsgard was fit to be housed at the jail. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied his pretrial motion to suppress evidence. At his jury trial, Skarsgard objected to the admission of the blood-alcohol test results and moved for a mistrial based on witness statements about his refusal to take a field sobriety test during a subsequent driving under the influence arrest. The court admitted the test results and denied the mistrial motion, giving a cautionary instruction for the jury to disregard the statements of the witness. The jury found Skarsgard guilty, and the

739 N.W.2d 790

court sentenced him to one year in prison on the driving under the influence charge and to 30 days imprisonment on the driving under suspension charge, both sentences to run concurrently.


[¶ 5] Skarsgard argues the district court erred in denying his suppression motion because Crabb lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle.

[¶ 6] Although an evidentiary hearing was held on the motion to suppress, Skarsgard failed to provide this Court with a transcript of that hearing. A party's failure to provide a transcript of the proceedings in the district court may prevent the party from prevailing on appeal. State v. Roth, 2004 ND 23, ¶ 27, 674 N.W.2d 495. We will not review an issue if the record on appeal does not allow for a meaningful and intelligent review of the district court's alleged error. State v. Hilgers, 2004 ND 160, ¶ 35, 685 N.W.2d 109. However, the record on appeal, including the exhibits and trial transcript, allow for a meaningful and intelligent review of the district court's decision. We will affirm a district court's decision on a suppression motion if sufficient competent evidence exists that is fairly capable of supporting the findings and the court's decision is not against the manifest weight of the evidence. State v. Doohen, 2006 ND 239, ¶ 8, 724 N.W.2d 158. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether findings of fact meet a legal standard is a question of law. State v. Graf, 2006 ND 196, ¶ 7, 721 N.W.2d 381.

[¶ 7] Although Skarsgard argues Crabb lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle, a law enforcement officer may make an investigative stop of a vehicle on less than probable cause. In State v. Washington, 2007 ND 138, ¶ 11, 737 N.W.2d 382, we explained:

[I]nvestigative stops of automobiles and their occupants for suspected violations of law may be upheld if an officer has at least a reasonable suspicion that the motorist has violated the law or probable cause to believe the motorist has done so. State v. Westmiller, 2007 ND 52, ¶ 9, 730 N.W.2d 134. In Westmiller, at ¶ 10, we explained the minimum standard to justify a stop:

Reasonable suspicion requires more than a mere hunch. State v. Smith, 2005 ND 21, ¶ 15, 691 N.W.2d 203. Reasonable suspicion for a stop exists when a reasonable person in the officer's position would be justified by some objective manifestation to suspect potential unlawful activity. Johnson v. Sprynczynatyk, 2006 ND 137, ¶ 9, 717 N.W.2d 586; Smith, at ¶ 15. The reasonable suspicion standard is objective and does not hinge upon the subjective beliefs or motivations of the arresting officer. State v. Leher, 2002 ND 171, ¶ 11, 653 N.W.2d 56. In order to determine whether an investigative stop is valid, we consider the totality of the circumstances and examine the information known to the officer at the time of the stop. Gabel [v. North Dakota Dep't of Transp.], 2006 ND 178, ¶ 11, 720 N.W.2d 433; State v. Torkelsen, 2006 ND 152, ¶ 13, 718 N.W.2d 22. The reasonable suspicion standard does not require an officer to rule out every possible innocent excuse for the behavior in question before stopping a vehicle for investigation. State v. Decoteau, 2004 ND 139, ¶ 14, 681 N.W.2d 803.

Washington, at ¶ 11.

[¶ 8] Crabb testified that he stopped the green Chrysler because it had no license plates and "no viewable registration" sticker. Crabb also testified he was able to see the driver while following

739 N.W.2d 791

him, recognized the driver as someone he had "dealt with . . . approximately a month earlier," and "knew from a prior instance that he was under suspension." Skarsgard contends the investigative stop was unconstitutional because "it is not illegal to drive a vehicle without a registration sticker," and in any event, he presented evidence that he had a registration sticker affixed to a vehicle window. We reject Skarsgard's argument for several reasons. Even though N.D.C.C. § 39-04-17 does not specifically require that a registration certificate be affixed to a vehicle and be viewable, the statute does require that "possession" of a proper certificate "is prima facie evidence of compliance with motor vehicle law" for 30 days from the date of application, and a violation of the statute is punishable as an infraction. "Probabilities, not hard certainties, are used in determining reasonable suspicion." State v. Decoteau, 2004 ND 139, ¶ 13, 681 N.W.2d 803. When a law enforcement officer observes a vehicle with no license plates and no viewable registration certificate, the officer has reasonable grounds to stop the driver and check if the driver has a valid certificate in his possession. Compare State v. Oliver, 2006 ND 241, ¶ 7, 724 N.W.2d 114 (law enforcement officer's observation of vehicle with no license plates and a "faded temporary registration certificate with no visible printing was indicative of a temporary certificate that was more than thirty days old and constituted an objective fact giving the officer a right to stop Oliver to check its validity"). Furthermore, although Skarsgard's girlfriend presented evidence attempting to establish the vehicle had a registration sticker on its window when Skarsgard was stopped, the district court had the opportunity to...

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