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State v. Erickson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 5, 2018

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Sandon Stanley Erickson, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Pierce County, Northeast Judicial District, the Honorable Lonnie Olson, Judge.

          Joshua E. Frey, State's Attorney, Towner, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

          Russell J. Myhre, Valley City, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice

         [¶ 1] Sandon Erickson appeals from the district court's criminal judgment and order denying his motion to suppress. We affirm, concluding that extension of the stop for an explanation did not transform the stop into an unconstitutional seizure.

         I

         [¶ 2] In April 2017, Deputy Taylor Schiller was patrolling in an area north of Rugby, looking for a brown or tan Ford SUV that had been reported stolen. Deputy Schiller saw a vehicle matching that description. The SUV was actually maroon, but Deputy Schiller testified it initially appeared to be tan because it was covered with dirt and road dust. This vehicle pulled over and came to a stop without a signal to stop from Deputy Schiller. Deputy Schiller pulled over as well, exited his squad car, and attempted to contact the driver. Before he made contact with the driver, the SUV drove away. Deputy Schiller was unable to read the license plate number of the SUV at that time.

         [¶ 3] Deputy Schiller returned to his squad car and activated his emergency lights. After the SUV again pulled over, Deputy Schiller exited his vehicle to make contact with the driver. Prior to making contact, he read the license plate number and noted that it did not match the license plate number of the stolen SUV. As he continued to approach the vehicle, Deputy Schiller recognized the driver as Erickson. Because of their prior contacts, he knew Erickson had a suspended license. Deputy Schiller also saw an open case of Keystone Light beer in the front-seat passenger side of Erickson's vehicle. He then informed Erickson that he had stopped him pursuant to a stolen vehicle investigation. Deputy Schiller testified he could detect the odor of alcohol, and he arrested Erickson for driving under the influence.

         [¶ 4] Erickson moved to suppress evidence obtained after the deputy read the plate and ruled out the vehicle as stolen. The district court denied Erickson's motion.

         II

         [¶ 5] Erickson argues that because the stop was unreasonably extended, the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress. "We will affirm a district court's decision on 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." State v. Westmiller, 2007 ND 52, ¶ 7, 730 N.W.2d 134. There are no material factual disputes. "Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether the findings of fact meet a legal standard is a question of law." Id.

         [¶ 6] Erickson argues that the stop was unreasonably extended once Deputy Schiller realized Erickson's license plate number did not match that of the stolen vehicle. Erickson contends that at that point, the purpose of the stop had been completed and any further detainment, including Deputy Schiller's approaching the stopped vehicle and providing him an explanation for the stop, was unconstitutional.

         [¶ 7] A stop becomes improper if the original purpose of the stop ceases and the officer no longer has reasonable suspicion of another crime. State v. Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 10, 662 N.W.2d 242.

The duration of the investigatory detention may continue "as long as reasonably necessary to conduct [the officer's duties resulting from the traffic stop] and to issue a warning or citation." When the original purpose of the traffic stop is complete, the officer must have a reasonable ...

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