State v. Nelson

State v. Nelson, 2017 MT 237 (Sept. 26, 2017) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in denying Nelson’s motion to suppress.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: In July 2015, a waitress and a coworker called 911 to report a drunk person driving away from the restaurant where they worked. MHP Officer Burson was on patrol when he received the report from dispatch. Eleven minutes after the initial report, he located the vehicle in a hotel parking lot, where he observed it drive from the check-in area to a parking spot. The officer activated his lights and made contact with the driver, Nelson. After conducting a DUI investigation, he arrested Nelson for DUI.

The county attorney charged Nelson with DUI, and Nelson moved to suppress, arguing Officer Burson lacked particularized suspicion to make a stop. The  justice court held a hearing and granted Nelson’s motion.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The state appealed to the district court, which reviewed the issue de novo. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress. Nelson entered a nolo contender plea and reserved his right to appeal. He appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Nelson argues the citizen informant’s tip was unreliable. Particularized suspicion is a question of fact, evaluated under the totality of the circumstances. The Pratt factors used to evaluate the reliability of an informant include (1) whether the informant identified herself to the authorities; (2) whether the informant’s report is based on personal observation; and (3) whether the officer’s observations corroborate the informant’s information. Because all three factors were properly met here, the district court’s decision is affirmed.