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Crawford v. Director, North Dakota Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 25, 2017

Ryan Dean Crawford, Appellant
v.
Director, North Dakota Department of Transportation, Appellee

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

          Michael R. Hoffman, for appellant.

          Andrew Moraghan, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

         [¶ 1] Ryan Crawford appealed from a district court judgment affirming a Department of Transportation decision suspending his driving privileges for two years. Crawford argues (1) the arresting officer did not have grounds to initially stop his vehicle, and (2) the results of a warrantless blood test should not have been admitted into evidence in the license suspension proceeding. We conclude the arresting officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initially stop Crawford's vehicle. We also conclude that assuming Crawford's consent to the warrantless blood test was involuntary for purposes of this appeal, the exclusionary rule does not require suppression of the results of the blood test in this civil administrative license suspension proceeding under Beylund v. Levi, 2017 ND 30, 889 N.W.2d 907. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] According to the arresting officer, he stopped a vehicle driven by Crawford for swerving over a centerline on a residential street in Bismarck in January 2016, and ultimately arrested Crawford for driving under the influence. After the officer read Crawford the implied consent advisory, Crawford submitted to a warrantless blood test incident to the arrest, and the result of that test indicated a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. Crawford requested an administrative hearing on the Department's intended suspension of his license but did not testify at the hearing. After the administrative hearing, the Department suspended Crawford's driving privileges for two years. The district court affirmed the Department's decision.

         II

         [¶ 3] The Administrative Agencies Practice Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 28-32, governs our review of an administrative decision suspending or revoking a driver's license. E.g., Koehly v. Levi, 2016 ND 202, ¶ 15, 886 N.W.2d 689. Under N.D.C.C. § 28-32-49, we review an administrative appeal from a district court judgment in the same manner as provided under N.D.C.C. § 28-32-46, which requires a district court to affirm an agency order unless the order is not in accordance with the law, the order violates the constitutional rights of the appellant, the provisions of N.D.C.C. ch. 28-32 have not been complied with in the proceedings before the agency, the agency's rules or procedure have not afforded the appellant a fair hearing, the agency's findings of fact are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence, the agency's conclusions of law and order are not supported by its findings of fact, or the agency's findings of fact do not sufficiently address the evidence presented by the appellant. Koehly, at ¶ 15.

         [¶ 4] In reviewing an agency's findings of fact, we do not make independent findings of fact or substitute our judgment for that of the agency; rather, we determine only whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have concluded the agency's findings were supported by the weight of the evidence from the entire record. Power Fuels, Inc. v. Elkin, 283 N.W.2d 214, 220 (N.D. 1979). We defer to the agency's opportunity to judge witnesses' credibility. Koehly, 2016 ND 202, ¶ 16, 886 N.W.2d 689. Once the facts are established, their significance presents a question of law, which we review de novo. Bell v. N.D. Dep't of Transp., 2012 ND 102, ¶ 20, 816 N.W.2d 786. We review claimed violations of constitutional rights de novo. Martin v. N.D. Dep't of Transp., 2009 ND 181, ¶ 5, 773 N.W.2d 190.

         III

         [¶ 5] Crawford argues the Department should not have suspended his license because the arresting officer did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initially stop his vehicle. He claims a review of the officer's video of the stop establishes Crawford "twice slightly moving left in his vehicle as he is driving, but it does not show him hitting the center line even once." Crawford argues the hearing officer's finding of fact that he hit the center dividing line is not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The Department responds that based on the evidence presented at the administrative hearing, a reasoning mind reasonably could have concluded the arresting officer observed Crawford's vehicle swerve left over the centerline and the officer thus had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initially stop Crawford's vehicle for a traffic violation.

         [¶ 6] "'[T]raffic violations, even if considered common or minor, constitute prohibited conduct and, therefore, provide officers with requisite suspicion for conducting investigatory stops.'" State v. Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 7, 662 N.W.2d 242 (quoting State v. Storbakken, 552 N.W.2d 78, 80-81 (N.D. 1996)). See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996) (law enforcement officer's decision to initially stop an automobile is reasonable when the officer has probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred).

         [¶ 7] Although Crawford claims a video of the traffic stop shows he did not cross or hit the center dividing line of the street even once, the arresting officer testified at the administrative hearing that he observed Crawford's vehicle cross the centerline of the street. Our review of the video of the traffic stop does not contradict the arresting officer's testimony, and we do not reweigh that evidence or reassess the arresting officer's credibility. A reasoning mind could reasonably conclude the police officer observed Crawford's vehicle crossing the centerline, which supports the conclusion the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initially stop Crawford's vehicle for a traffic violation. See N.D.C.C. ยงยง 39-10-01.1 and 39-10-08(1) (subject to exceptions not applicable ...


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