APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE BRADLEY G. ZELL Judge.
CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON MARCH 23, 2009
[¶1.] A "concerned citizen" eyewitness told a police officer that he had seen two men drinking beer in a van parked next to the eyewitness in a parking lot. The police officer executed a traffic stop on the van after it was driven out of the parking lot. As a result of this stop, Shane Allen Satter was convicted of violating SDCL 32-23-1, driving a vehicle while having 0.08 percent or more BAC. Satter appeals his conviction, claiming that the eyewitness's tip did not create reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop and, therefore, violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. He argues that all of the evidence seized from this stop should have been excluded from trial.
[¶2.] Officer Brian Warwick, of the Sioux Falls Police Department, was parked at the fire station at Madison and Kiwanis Avenues when a white pickup, bearing the logos of a Rapid City business, drove up to his patrol car. Officer Warwick rolled down his window, expecting that the out-of-town driver needed directions.
[¶3.] The pickup driver told Officer Warwick that, while he was parked at the gas station across the street, a van had parked next to him in front of the convenience store. The citizen stated that the two occupants of the van were drinking beer from open containers, had the beer between their legs, and one of them had gone into the convenience store to purchase more beer. Officer Warwick asked the citizen to identify which vehicle he was referring to, and the citizen pointed to a van, which was clearly visible from Officer Warwick's position.
[¶4.] Within seconds of this identification, the van backed away from the convenience store, then left the parking lot. Officer Warwick was unable to obtain identifying information from the citizen before he left to follow the van. He followed the van for two blocks, saw no unsafe or erratic driving, but still executed a traffic stop on the van. The events that followed the traffic stop are irrelevant to this appeal.
[¶5.] Satter was charged with Driving Under the Influence. Before trial, Satter sought to suppress evidence seized after the traffic stop, alleging a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The circuit court admitted the evidence, finding that reasonable suspicion had been established from the citizen's statements.
Whether the information from the tipster alone provided reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop in this situation.
[¶6.] Satter argues that the unidentified citizen's statements did not have sufficient "indicia of reliability" to justify the stop because the police officer "did not corroborate any of the tipster's information and conducted the traffic stop based solely on the informant's tip." Further, because no identifying information was collected from the citizen, Satter contends that "there is no way to assess the reputation of the tipster or hold this person accountable should the allegations turn out to be untrue," and thus, the tip should be considered unreliable. Finally, Satter argues that the tip regarded an open container violation, not that the driver of the vehicle was impaired; therefore, public policy concerns about the dangers of drivers under the influence are not applicable when the police officer, in following up on the tip, did not observe impaired driving.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Although this protection generally requires probable cause to search, the requisite level of suspicion necessary to effectuate the stop of a vehicle is not equivalent to probable cause necessary for an arrest or a search warrant. All that is required is that the police officer has a reasonable suspicion to stop an automobile. Therefore, the factual basis needed to support a traffic stop is minimal.
While the stop may not be the product of mere whim, caprice or idol [sic] curiosity, it is enough that the stop is based upon specific and articulable facts which taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant [the] intrusion.
State v. Scholl, 2004 SD 85, ¶6, 684 NW2d 83, 85 (quoting State v. Chavez, 2003 SD 93, ¶¶15-16, 668 ...