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State of North Dakota v. Kelly Michael

December 2, 2010

STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE
v.
KELLY MICHAEL STEFFES, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Stutsman County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Mikal Simonson, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crothers, Justice.

AFFIRMED.

[¶1] Kelly Michael Steffes appeals from the district court's judgment entered after his conditional plea of guilty to the charge of giving false information or report to a law enforcement officer. We affirm.

I

[¶2] Around two a.m. on October 4, 2009, Jamestown Police Officer Michael Craig was dispatched to investigate a report of a male who appeared to be intoxicated and who was getting into a vehicle located in the Brass Rail bar parking lot. The caller's identity is not known. Officer Craig located a vehicle matching the caller's description and having the same license plate number. Officer Craig parked his police car far enough from the vehicle that it could exit the parking spot.

[¶3] The vehicle's dome light was on, the key was in the ignition turned to the accessory position and the car was not running. The district court found:

"[Steffes] was in the driver's seat holding a cellular telephone. The dash lights were on and the radio was playing loudly. Due to the loud radio, Craig did not try to communicate orally with Steffes. Rather he tapped on the driver's side window and with his finger motioned downward indicating he wanted Steffes to lower the window. Steffes turned and looked at Craig, did not respond, and then looked down and away. Craig knocked on the window again. Steffes cracked open the driver's door and Craig asked him to turn down the radio. Some time later he was arrested." Officer Craig testified it took approximately three seconds after the first knock for Steffes to open the door.

[¶4] While Officer Craig was talking to Steffes, Officer Meisch arrived. Officer Craig asked for Steffes' driver's license and was told Steffes did not have his driver's license with him. Steffes told Officer Craig his name was "Michael Shockman" and also gave him a birth date, both of which were false. Steffes exited the vehicle, and Officer Meisch asked Steffes to get back into the vehicle because Steffes was off balance. Steffes did not comply. Officer Craig then directed Steffes to get back in the car for fear that Steffes would hurt himself. Steffes complied.

[¶5] On October 14, 2009, the state charged Steffes with providing false information or giving a false report to a law enforcement officer. Steffes pleaded not guilty, and on November 16, 2009, he moved to suppress the evidence arguing he was seized without reasonable and articulable suspicion. The state resisted the motion, and a hearing was held on March 1, 2010. The district court denied Steffes' motion to suppress the evidence. On April 30, 2010, Steffes entered a N.D.R.Crim.P. 11 conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the results of his suppression motion. The criminal judgment was entered on May 14, 2010. Steffes timely filed this appeal.

II

[¶6] Steffes argues his Fourth Amendment rights were violated because the officer's actions amounted to a seizure without reasonable and articulable suspicion. This Court has stated:

"When reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we defer to the district court's findings of fact and resolve conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. State v. Graf, 2006 ND 196, ¶ 7, 721 N.W.2d 381. We recognize that the district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence. State v. Woinarowicz, 2006 ND 179, ¶ 20, 720 N.W.2d 635 (citations omitted). Generally, a district court's decision to deny a motion to suppress will not be reversed if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the district court's findings, and if its decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law. Graf, at ¶ 7." State v. Goebel, 2007 ND 4, ¶ 11, 725 N.W.2d 578.

[¶7] The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV; see also N.D. Const. art. 1, § 8. However, "not all encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens constitute 'seizures' implicating the Fourth Amendment." Abernathey v. Dep't of Transp., 2009 ND 122, ¶ 8, 768 N.W.2d 485. We have recognized that "it is not a seizure for an officer to walk up to and talk to a person in a public place." City of Mandan v. Gerhardt, 2010 ND 112, ¶ 8, 783 N.W.2d 818 (quoting City of Jamestown v. Jerome, 2002 ND 34, ¶ 5, 639 N.W.2d 478). This extends to "[a] law enforcement officer's 'approach [of] a parked vehicle . . . if the officer inquires of the occupant in a conversational manner, does not order the person to do something, and does not demand a response.'" Abernathey, at ¶ 8 (quoting State v. Langseth, 492 N.W.2d 298, 300 (N.D. 1992)).

[¶8] When analyzing if a seizure has occurred, the Court looks at whether there was the "threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled." Richter v. N.D. Dep't of Transp., 2010 ND 150, ¶ 15, 786 N.W.2d 716 (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980)). In Abernathey, this Court held a driver was not seized by ...


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