State v. Wagner

State v. Wagner, 2013 MT 159 (June 18, 2013) (5-0) (McKinnon, J.)

Issue: Whether the officer had particularized suspicion to justify an investigative stop.
Short Answer: Yes.

Facts: Officer Davis was patrolling southbound on Highway 2 in Libby at about 2:40 a.m. on April 9, 2012, when he observed a vehicle straddling both southbound lanes. He followed the car, and observed it move into the left lane without signaling, then move into the right lane and weave within that lane. He followed the car as it turned into a neighborhood, and initiated a traffic stop.

The patrol car video retains only the 60 seconds before the overhead lights are activated, which meant the officer’s video did not show any of the erratic driving upon which he based his particularized suspicion.

Wagner, the driver, testified that he regularly drove on the inside southbound lane of Highway 2 to avoid deer and moose, and denied that the had straddled both lanes.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Wagner moved to suppress on the basis that Officer Davis lacked particularized suspicion to make an investigative stop. After a hearing, the district court found the officer’s testimony credible and found Wagner’s testimony lacked credibility. The court denied the motion. Wagner appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: A court’s determination that particularized suspicion existed is a question of fact reviewed for clear error. A peace officer must have (1) objective data and articulable facts from which he or she can make certain reasonable inferences, and (2) a resulting suspicion that the person to be stopped has committed, is committing, or is about to commit and offense. The inquiry turns on what the officer knew, observed, or suspected at the time of the stop, not on what the defendant subsequently testifies to. The district court specifically found the officer’s testimony credible. “The absence of video evidence does not negate the sworn statements of a peace officer, whom the trial court finds credible, concerning his observation s in the field.” ¶ 17.