ST. PAUL (AP) -- In two rulings Wednesday, the state Court of Appeals narrowed the conditions under which suspected drunken drivers may be pulled over.
The court said that law officers may not pull over a car just because someone else reported they suspected its driver was drunk and offered no further details.
And, in a separate case, the court found a lower court erred by not giving full consideration to all of a state trooper's direct observation of a driver's erratic behavior.
The first case stemmed from the December 2000 stop of a driver by Elk River police. The stop came after a gas station employee called police, reported the driver appeared to be driving while intoxicated and supplied the license plate of the driver's vehicle.
The officer didn't observe any erratic behavior but stopped the driver anyway. The driver failed a breath test and his driver's license was later revoked.
The driver's attorneys challenged the validity of the stop and said the gas station employee's tip was insufficient to form a basis for the officer's action.
A trial court said the tip was enough, but the appeals court disagreed. It said a police officer needs to be told why a caller suspects someone is driving while intoxicated.
"Because the police officer relied solely on an informant's tip of a 'possible intoxicated driver,' which did not provide an affirmative report of drunkeness or any information suggesting that state, the officer did not have an articulable suspicion to stop" the driver, the court said.
In a separate case stemming from the July 2000 stop of a driver by a state trooper near Kensington in Douglas County, the appeals court overturned a trial judge's ruling that the trooper didn't have enough reason to pull over the driver.
The case turned on the way the trooper testified about the suspicion he developed while following the driver. The trooper said he turned his car around to follow a driver he noticed driving on the shoulder and weaving across the center line.
He testified he followed the driver to see if the erratic behavior continued and decided to pull the driver over after the driver sped away and passed another car.
The lower court ruled that because the trooper testified he didn't have reasonable suspicion to stop the driver from the outset, it could only consider the trooper's testimony about the driver after that suspicion developed, later in the chase.
But the appeals court overturned that ruling, citing previous cases in which it found that if an officer observes a violation of traffic law, however insignificant, the officer has a basis for stopping the vehicle.
"The district court was entitled to look at all the 1/8driver's 3/8 conduct," the appeals court said.
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