The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Schlicher v. Commissioner of Public Safety, (Decided April 17, 2017, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that the idle curiosity of the police officer does not justify an automobile stop.
In Schlicher, a Wabasha police officer on patrol saw appellant David Kenneth Schlicher's car turn onto a narrow dirt road. The officer knew the private road led only to a commercial business, which was closed at that hour, so he followed appellant. As the officer drove down the dirt road, he observed appellant's vehicle coming toward him. The officer reversed his squad car because the road was too narrow for either car to drive past the other, and he "[did not] want to approach the vehicle from the front." The officer stopped his squad car near the end of the dirt road and exited his car. During this time, another police squad car arrived. Schlicher's car was still moving when the officer got out of his squad car. The officer approached the car and, after an investigation, arrested appellant for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Schlicher refused to take a breath test, and his license was revoked.
Schlicher filed a petition in district court challenging the revocation of his driving privileges and requesting a hearing. After the hearing the district court ruled, "that the officer's stop was constitutional and stated that, "the officer observed Schlicher vehicle turn into a narrow private dirt drive that led to a business which had been closed for hours . . . [which] gave the officer a reasonable articulable basis" to stop the appellant.
On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court stating:
"Under the Minnesota Constitution, a seizure occurs when, given the totality of the circumstances, "a reasonable person in the defendant's shoes would have concluded that he or she was not free to leave." In re Welfare of E.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 780 (Minn. 1993)."
"Generally, no seizure occurs when an officer merely walks up to and speaks with a driver sitting in an already-stopped vehicle." Id. at 152. Conversely, with an already-stopped car, a police officer's actions of preventing a vehicle from moving by boxing the vehicle in and activating the squad car's sirens constitute a seizure because these actions create the impression that a reasonable person would believe that he or she is not free to leave."
"Here, the officer's squad car met appellant's vehicle head-on while appellant was driving down the private narrow road, toward the main road. The officer did not reverse his squad car out onto the main road, which would have given appellant complete access to the main road; instead, he stopped his car on the narrow dirt road, exited his vehicle, and began walking toward appellant's car while appellant was still driving toward him. Even though the officer believed appellant's car could have "squeezed by," appellant testified that he did not believe his car could drive past the officer's car in order to get to the main road. Accordingly, considering the positioning of the officer's squad car on the narrow road, the fact that the officer exited his vehicle while appellant was still driving, and the fact that another squad car had arrived on scene, we conclude that the officer's actions constituted a seizure because no reasonable person in appellant's position would have felt free to leave."
"An investigative stop of a motor vehicle is a seizure, and in order to justify the stop, police must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity....Here, the officer did not articulate an objective basis for the seizure. There are no allegations that the officer became concerned with appellant's conduct, other than the fact that appellant was driving down a private narrow dirt road that led to a closed commercial business. In fact, the officer testified that his actions were motivated by his curiosity. This alone is insufficient to justify a seizure...The only factors to which the officer testified that would suggest criminal activity were the time of night, that he had never before seen anyone driving on that private narrow road, and that the narrow road led to a closed business. These factors are insufficient."
Moral Of The Story: Curiosity Can Kill Your Case!