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State v. Hirschkorn

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 30, 2016

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
John Immanuel Hirschkorn, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of McLean County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable John W. Grinsteiner, Judge.

         Ladd R. Erickson, State's Attorney, Washburn, ND, for plaintiff and appellant; submitted on brief.

         Lloyd C. Suhr, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellee; submitted on brief.

         Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Daniel J. Crothers.

          OPINION

         VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

          [¶1] The State appealed a district court order suppressing evidence obtained from a traffic stop of John Hirschkorn. We reverse and remand.

         I

          [¶2] Hirschkorn moved to suppress evidence obtained in a traffic stop resulting in his arrest for driving under the influence. According to testimony at the suppression hearing, a McLean County Sheriff's deputy responded to reported drug use in a Turtle Lake alley. The deputy testified the alley was paved and maintained by the City of Turtle Lake. A second deputy testified the alley was paved and gravel in part, but was nonetheless public. Upon surveiling the area, the first deputy testified to observing a vehicle exit the alley without signaling before turning. Believing this failure was a traffic violation, the deputy radioed the second deputy to stop the vehicle. After executing the stop, the second deputy arrested Hirschkorn.

          [¶3] Hirschkorn moved to suppress evidence obtained from the stop, arguing no reasonable suspicion justified the stop because the law does not require drivers to signal prior to exiting alleys. Following the suppression hearing, the district court found the first deputy " observed a pickup emerge from an alley without using a turn signal." After noting drivers must generally signal before turning, the court also noted the statutory section specifically regulating driver conduct while exiting alleys does not contain this requirement. The court found this specific section, and its lack of a requirement to signal, took precedence over the general requirement to signal, meaning drivers do not have to signal prior to exiting alleys. Because Hirschkorn's failure to signal was not a traffic violation, the district court concluded no reasonable suspicion justified the traffic stop. The court accordingly suppressed evidence resulting from the stop.

         II

          [¶4] On appeal, the State argues the district court erred in suppressing evidence from the traffic stop because the court misinterpreted the law by concluding the law does not require drivers to signal prior to exiting alleys. " Questions of law and the ultimate conclusion about whether the facts support a reasonable and articulable suspicion are fully reviewable on appeal." State v. Smith, 2005 ND 21, ¶ 11, 691 N.W.2d 203.

         A

          [¶5] As presented by the parties, this appeal concerns interpreting whether drivers must signal prior to exiting alleys. Statutory interpretation is a question of law fully reviewable on appeal. VND, LLC v. Leevers Foods, Inc., 2003 ND 198, ¶ 9, 672 N.W.2d 445. Various canons of statutory construction guide our interpretation of the statutes at issue here. Words in a statute are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning unless defined by statute or unless a contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02. Statutes are construed as a whole and are harmonized to give meaning to related provisions. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-07. " Words and phrases must be construed according to the context and the rules of grammar and the approved usage of the language." N.D.C.C. § 1-02-03.

          [¶6] Chapter 39-10, N.D.C.C., governs " the operation of vehicles upon highways or other places open to the public for the operation of vehicles . . . ." N.D.C.C. § 39-10-01(1). Highways generally include " every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel . . . ." N.D.C.C. § 39-01-01(29). Within N.D.C.C. ch. 39-10, statutory provisions regulating highways generally apply " except ...


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