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State v. Lark

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 17, 2017

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Dustin Adam Lark, Defendant and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Stacy J. Louser, Judge.

          Ashlei A. Neufeld, Assistant State's Attorney, Minot, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

          Jesse N. Lange, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          VandeWalle, Justice.

         [¶ 1] The State appealed from a district court order granting Dustin Lark's motion to suppress evidence. We reverse.

         I.

         [¶ 2] On or about September 6, 2016, Ward County Narcotics Task Force Officer Jason Bambenek observed a black Dodge Charger traveling east bound in the west bound lane near 36th Avenue NE in Minot, near North Broadway. Officer Andy Mehlhoff of the Minot Police Department initiated a traffic stop for the traffic violation at the direction of Bambenek, as Bambenek was traveling in an unmarked patrol vehicle. The Charger continued for a few blocks before coming to a stop.

         [¶ 3] Shortly after the stop, Mehlhoff determined Lark had a suspended Oregon driver's license and a valid North Dakota driver's license. Bambenek instructed Lark to step out of the vehicle because Bambenek saw what he believed to be a "snort tube, " made from a rolled up ten dollar bill, and crack cocaine in the front passenger area of the vehicle. Lark was handcuffed, advised of his Miranda rights, and searched by Mehlhoff.

         [¶ 4] The search of Lark resulted in two cell phones, approximately $8, 400 in cash, and a rolled up dollar bill with a "burnt tape" or a "brown burn mark" on it. Lark was then placed in the patrol vehicle and his vehicle was searched by Bambenek. During the stop, Mehlhoff discovered the car was not registered in Lark's name; it was registered to Victor Wakefield. Lark informed the officers he had recently purchased the vehicle from "Richard." Later in the stop, but before the driving under suspension (DUS) citation was issued, the officers discovered Richard Hose was also listed as a second registered owner.

         [¶ 5] While Lark was detained in the back of Mehlhoff's squad car, Bambenek searched his vehicle. The search revealed a third cell phone, a letter containing a birth certificate of another person, and various other collectibles. Approximately 24 minutes into the stop, Bambenek informed Mehlhoff the field tests for narcotics were inconclusive.

         [¶ 6] Approximately 28 minutes into the stop, Mehlhoff advised Bambenek that he would get started on issuing the DUS citation while Bambenek continued the search of Lark's vehicle. Lark was then searched a second time for approximately two minutes and placed back in Mehlhoff's squad car.

         [¶ 7] Mehlhoff issued the DUS citation approximately 42 minutes into the traffic stop and informed Lark he would be free to leave after signing the promise to appear unless something else was found in the vehicle.

         [¶ 8] Approximately 47-48 minutes into the stop, after issuing the citation, Bambenek asked Mehlhoff to contact dispatch to see if any of the suspicious items found in Lark's trunk were stolen. Some of the items identified during the search included a letter that was not addressed to or written by Lark, a birth certificate, a coin collection, and other various collectibles. Approximately 51 minutes into the stop, Bambenek located Suboxene in the headliner by the driver's seat.

         [¶ 9] Lark was arrested for unlawful possession of a schedule III drug with intent to deliver. Lark filed a motion to suppress evidence, and the State opposed the motion. The district court held a hearing on the suppression motion at which one of the officers testified. Both parties questioned the ...


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