The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Donarski (Decided August 21, 2017, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished), which stands for the proposition that the basis for an initial stop is an objective test and not what the officer subjectively believes. Duh! Otherwise, the police could stop anyone whenever they have a subjective feeling that they should.
In Donarski, the facts are great: On July 1, 2015, at approximately 12:32 a.m., Officer Kenneth Dionne received a call from dispatch reporting a "suspicious vehicle" that had been "parked in or near the complainant's driveway" for approximately 15 minutes. The vehicle's headlights and taillights were on, but the complainant did not see anybody in the vehicle. The complainant provided a license-plate number, which the dispatcher ran and found that the vehicle was registered to appellant Melissa Ann Donarski.
Officer Dionne knew the complainant's name and the address. As the officer approached the area, a rural and lightly traveled region, he observed the vehicle moving southbound and then turn eastbound onto County Road 23, which goes through Tabor Township. Officer Dionne observed the vehicle moving very slowly, ten or twenty miles an hour. Officer Dionne also saw the vehicle's brake lights come on several times; the vehicle appeared to "slow down randomly," and its reverse lights came on one time.
When Officer Dionne reached Tabor, Donarski's vehicle was no longer on the county road; rather, the vehicle was traveling on a dike, a grass-covered area that is 3 or 4 feet high and approximately 15 feet wide. The dike is not for public use, it is not paved, it has no street lights, and it is not marked with any signage. The dike has some vehicle tracks from moving farming machinery. The purpose of the dike is to keep water out of Tabor, which is on the north end of the dike, a "large ditch that is filled with water during the flooding season" is to the south. Officer Dionne has patrolled through Tabor approximately 500 times and has never seen anyone drive on the dike.
Officer Dionne then stopped Ms. Donarski and subsequently placed her under arrest for DWI. Ms. Donarski moved to suppress the test results and dismiss the charges in the district court, arguing that Officer Dionne lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to stop her. Following a hearing, the district court denied Donarski's motion, concluding that, while no single factor provided reasonable suspicion, Officer Dionne had reasonable suspicion to stop Donarski based on all of the circumstances.
On appeal, Donarski argued that her seizure was unconstitutional because Officer Dionne failed to state a subjective reasonable suspicion for the seizure. but the Minnesota Court of Appeals rightly rejected her argument noting:
"Contrary to Donarski's assertion, an officer's suspicion must satisfy an objective test, rather than a subjective test. See State v. Smith, 814 N.W.2d 346, 351 (Minn. 2012) ("To be reasonable, the basis of the officer's suspicion must satisfy an objective, totality -of-the-circumstances test."). This objective test requires consideration of whether '"the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure [would] warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate.' State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 364 (Minn. 2004) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1880)."
"The district court determined that no single factor provided reasonable suspicion to conduct a stop. But an officer may have reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop based on a combination of factors even when no single factor alone would justify a stop. Terry, 392 U.S. at 22, 88 S. Ct. at 1880-81. The district court here correctly assessed the totality of the circumstances in concluding that, when combined, the facts sufficiently supported an objective determination of reasonable suspicion."
Moral Of The Story: If you are going to drive drunk, it might be a good idea to stay on the road.