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State v. Bell

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 29, 2017

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Memory Bell, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Mercer County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Gail Hagerty, Judge.

          Jessica J. Binder, Mercer County State's Attorney, Stanton, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Kent M. Morrow, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

         [¶ 1] Memory Bell appealed a district court's judgment after entering a conditional plea of guilty to the charges of possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and ingesting a controlled substance. Bell argues law enforcement impermissibly extended the traffic stop to allow enough time to have a drug-detecting dog come to the scene and perform a drug sniff. Because Bell failed to present evidence she was detained when officers performed the drug sniff, we affirm.

         I.

         [¶ 2] On October 19, 2016, law enforcement stopped a vehicle for failing to operate with headlights during the evening hours. Prior to initiating a traffic stop, Officer Benjamin Newman observed another vehicle attempt to signal the subject vehicle that its lights were off, but the vehicle did not engage its headlights. There were three people in the vehicle: the driver -- Taisha Solvie, the defendant -- Memory Bell, and a male passenger in the backseat. During the traffic stop, Solvie provided a false name to Officer Newman. Upon discovery of Solvie's true identity, Officer Newman found there was an outstanding warrant for her. Officer Newman also learned Solvie and the backseat passenger were on probation for controlled-substance offenses.

         [¶ 3] Because of the headlight violation, Officer Newman decided to issue a written warning. While issuing the warning, Officer Newman requested the assistance of a drug-detecting dog, which arrived within five minutes of the request. Upon arriving at the traffic stop, the drug-detecting dog indicated on the vehicle. The vehicle was subsequently searched and methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia were found.

         [¶ 4] Bell was charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia and ingesting a controlled substance. Bell moved to suppress the evidence obtained through the search of the vehicle. The district court denied the motion.

         [¶ 5] On appeal, Bell argues: (1) she was unreasonably detained beyond the time required for the initial traffic stop and (2) the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify her continued detention.

         II.

         [¶ 6] In reviewing a district court's decision to grant or deny a motion to suppress:

This Court defers to the district court's findings of fact and resolves conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. This Court will affirm a district court decision regarding a motion to suppress if there is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the district court's findings, and the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law.

State v. Nguyen, 2013 ND 252, ¶ 7, 841 N.W.2d 676 (quoting State v. Morin, 2012 ND 75, ¶ 5, 8 ...


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