DAHL v. STATE, A-9383 (Alaska App. 1-24-2007)

DOUGLAS DAHL, Appellant v. STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

No. A-9383.Court of Appeals of Alaska.
January 24, 2007.

Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Randy M. Olsen, Judge, Court of Appeals No. A-9383, Trial Court No. 4FA-05-1236 CR.

Marcia E. Holland, Assistant Public Defender, Fairbanks, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Anne D. Carpeneti, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and David W. MÁrquez, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: COATS, Chief Judge, and MANNHEIMER and STEWART, Judges.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT

STEWART, Chief Judge.

Douglas Dahl pleaded no contest to one count of felony driving while under the influence,[fn1] preserving his right to appeal the superior court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained after he was stopped by a trooper.[fn2] We affirm Dahl’s conviction because the trooper’s stop was supported by reasonable suspicion.

Facts and proceedings

Around two o’clock on the afternoon of April 21, 2005, an anonymous caller contacted the State Troopers office in Delta Junction and reported that ” Gary Lee” was driving a Chevrolet Blazer in the area with a revoked license. The caller described the Blazer as gray with a gold or brown stripe and identified the license plate as reading “ERW 620.”

Trooper Steven Lantz checked the registration for that license plate and confirmed that the registered owner of the Blazer was Gary Lee, and that Lee’s license was revoked. Trooper Lantz learned from State records that Lee was a white male, approximately 5’8″ tall, weighing 210 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

A little over an hour later, Trooper Lantz was returning from responding to another call when he observed a Blazer matching the description given by the anonymous caller turn from Jack Warren Road and travel south on the Richardson Highway. The Blazer passed Trooper Lantz, who was moving in the opposite direction. As the car passed, Trooper Lantz observed that the driver was a white male with “brownish or blondish hair.”

Trooper Lantz turned around and followed the Blazer, and confirmed with dispatch that the Blazer’s license plate was the same as the one provided by the anonymous caller. Trooper Lantz activated his overhead emergency lights. When the Blazer failed to stop, the trooper activated his siren.

The Blazer pulled into a parking lot and came to a stop that Trooper Lantz described as “loop[ing]” and “rolling.” Lantz contacted the driver of the Blazer, and addressed him as ” Mr. Lee,” and asked him if there was a reason why he was driving with a revoked license. The driver responded “no, ” and it was not until Lantz looked at the license the driver provided that he learned that the driver was not Lee, but Dahl.

Trooper Lantz observed that Dahl’s eyes were watery, that his speech was fair to slightly slurred, and that he swayed slightly when he stood up. Trooper Lantz also noticed an odor of alcohol on Dahl’s breath. Dahl told Trooper Lantz that he had consumed two beers earlier in the day. Trooper Lantz asked Dahl to perform field sobriety tests, but Dahl refused. Trooper Lantz concluded that Dahl was driving while under the influence of alcohol and arrested him.

At the station, Lantz read Dahl the implied consent warning, but Dahl refused to provide a breath sample. The State charged Dahl with felony driving while under the influence,[fn3] felony refusal to submit to a chemical test,[fn4] and misdemeanor driving with a revoked operator’s license.[fn5]

Dahl moved to suppress all the evidence following Trooper Lantz’s stop of the vehicle he was driving, arguing that the stop was illegal. Trooper Lantz testified at an evidentiary hearing before Superior Court Judge Randy M. Olsen. Judge Olsen denied Dahl’s motion. Dahl pleaded no contest to felony driving while under the influence, and the State dismissed the other charges. Dahl appeals Judge Olsen’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence.

Discussion

A stop is justified if it is supported by probable cause to believe that a traffic violation was committed or if the officer has reasonable suspicion that imminent public danger exists or that serious harm to persons or property has recently occurred.[fn6]

Here, the facts support the conclusion that the trooper had reasonable suspicion that the driver of the Blazer had a suspended license. Therefore, the stop was justified as an investigative stop under theColeman/Ebona rule,[fn7] which provides that police officers can conduct an investigative stop if they have “reasonable suspicion that imminent public danger exists or [that] serious harm to persons or property has recently occurred.”[fn8]

In Smith v. State,[fn9] this court held that reasonable suspicion that a driver has a suspended license satisfies the “imminent public danger” prong of the Coleman/Ebona rule.[fn10] In Smith, the authorities were aware that the registered owner of a particular vehicle had a suspended license.[fn11] A trooper observed the vehicle being driven and was informed by dispatch that its owner had a suspended license.[fn12] The owner was described as a 21-year-old Caucasian female, 5’4″ tall, weighing 125 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.[fn13] When the trooper observed the vehicle, he was able to see that its driver was a Caucasian female appearing to be about the same height and age as the registered owner.[fn14] After the trooper pulled the vehicle over and asked for identification, he learned that the driver was not the registered owner of the vehicle, but was the defendant Michelle Smith.[fn15] Smith could not produce a driver’s license, and the trooper learned by radio that Smith’s license had been suspended.[fn16] Smith was subsequently convicted of driving while her license was suspended (DWLS).[fn17]

Smith moved to suppress the evidence resulting from the stop, arguing that the offense of DWLS fails to satisfy the imminent public danger criterion of the Coleman/Ebona rule.[fn18] This court found that the reasons for suspending a driver’s license are frequently related to public safety, and thus that “a stop for DWLS based on reasonable suspicion falls within the boundaries of the Coleman/Ebona rule.”[fn19]

In this case, Trooper Lantz confirmed that the owner of the Blazer he observed on the road had his license revoked. Lantz observed that the driver of the Blazer was a white male with hair color similar to the registered owner. These facts support reasonable suspicion that an imminent danger to public safety existed. Dahl maintains that the vehicle he was driving would never have come to the attention of the authorities absent the anonymous call. He further argues that the reliability of the anonymous tip was not sufficiently verified to support the trooper’s stop. But the reliability of the anonymous tip in this case is irrelevant. Trooper Lantz verified through independent official records that the owner of the Blazer that he observed on the road had his driver’s license revoked. Lantz’s confirmation of the license status of the owner of the Blazer through state records supplanted the anonymous tip as the basis for the trooper’s reasonable suspicion. Thus, it was not the anonymously provided information that provided reasonable suspicion but the official records accessed by the trooper.

Dahl argues that the officer had to “confirm with specificity that the driver was the actual registered owner.” But the trial court’s finding that Dahl “matched the description of the registered driver” is supported by the record and supports Lantz’s reasonable suspicion that the driver of the vehicle was the owner who was driving with a revoked license.[fn20]
Conclusion

The judgment of the superior court is AFFIRMED.

[fn1] AS 28.35.030(n).

[fn2] See Cooksey v. State, 524 P.2d 1251, 1255-57 (Alaska 1974).

[fn3] AS 28.35.030(n).

[fn4] AS 28.35.032(p).

[fn5] AS 28.15.291(a)(1).

[fn6] See Nease v. State, 105 P.3d 1145, 1147 (Alaska App. 2005) (probable cause); Coleman v. State, 553 P.2d 40, 46 (Alaska 1976) (reasonable suspicion).

[fn7] Coleman, 553 P.2d 40; Ebona v. State, 577 P.2d 698 (Alaska 1978).

[fn8] Coleman, 553 P.2d at 46.

[fn9] 756 P.2d 913 (Alaska App. 1988).

[fn10] Id. at 915-16.

[fn11] Id. at 914.

[fn12] Id.

[fn13] Id.

[fn14] Id.

[fn15] Id. at 914-15.

[fn16] Id. at 915.

[fn17] Id.

[fn18] Id.

[fn19] Id. at 915-16.

[fn20] See id. at 914.