Submitted on Briefs: June 26, 2013
APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DC 10-361A Honorable Holly Brown, Presiding Judge.
For Appellant: Wade Zolynski, Chief Appellate Defender; Koan Mercer, Assistant Appellate Defender; Jesse Kodadek, Law Student; Helena, Montana
For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General; Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General; Helena, Montana, Greg Sullivan, Bozeman City Attorney; Susan Wordal, Assistant City Attorney; Bozeman, Montana
JIM RICE Justice.
¶1 Marco Marcial (Marcial) pled guilty to driving under the influence (DUI) following the Bozeman Municipal Court's denial of his motion to suppress. Marcial appealed to the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, which affirmed the Municipal Court's denial of Marcial's motion. We affirm the District Court's decision to deny Marcial's motion to suppress, but rely on alternate grounds.
¶2 We restate and consider the following issue:
¶3 Whether the District Court erred by affirming the Municipal Court's denial of Marcial's motion to suppress based on the Community Caretaker Doctrine?
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶4 On May 8, 2010, at around 1:15 a.m., Bozeman Police Department Sergeant Travis Munter (Sgt. Munter) was traveling south on North Rouse Avenue in Bozeman. Sgt. Munter observed Marcial, who was driving northbound, execute a hard left turn in an area where Sgt. Munter knew there were no cross streets. Marcial drove up on the sidewalk and onto the grass before coming to an abrupt stop, nearly perpendicular to the street. Sgt. Munter then observed Marcial's vehicle back away from the curb area, where he saw a fire hydrant immediately next to the sidewalk. Concerned that Marcial had collided with the fire hydrant, Sgt. Munter turned his vehicle around and stopped behind Marcial's car just as Marcial was parking parallel to the street. Sgt. Munter activated his rear warning lights, but not his top lights.
¶5 Sgt. Munter exited his car and approached Marcial's vehicle, knocking on the side of the car. Sgt. Munter testified that he did not observe any damage to Marcial's vehicle at that time and could see that the fire hydrant did not appear to be damaged. Marcial opened the door, and Sgt. Munter asked, "everything okay?" Marcial responded affirmatively. While speaking to Marcial, Sgt. Munter noticed the smell of an alcoholic beverage and other indicators that Marcial was driving under the influence of alcohol. Sgt. Munter then asked Marcial for his license and vehicle registration and proceeded with a DUI investigation. Sgt. Munter administered several standard field sobriety tests, ultimately arresting Marcial and citing him for driving under the influence in violation of § 61-8-401, MCA. Marcial was not issued any other traffic citations.
¶6 Marcial filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the stop, arguing that the community caretaker doctrine was not applicable and Sgt. Munter did not have the requisite particularized suspicion to make a traffic stop. A suppression hearing was held in Bozeman Municipal Court on November 1, 2010, with Judge Karl Seel presiding. At the hearing, Sgt. Munter said he thought Marcial "might have collided with the fire hydrant, " but that he had no intent to make a traffic stop. Sgt. Munter testified that his primary concern was to "check his welfare" after seeing Marcial make the abrupt turn and sudden stop, and after observing the nearby fire hydrant. On cross examination, Sgt. Munter confirmed that he did not cite Marcial for any other traffic offense and stated "my initial contact was merely for welfare and to ascertain if there was a crash." Sgt. Munter added, "a lot of times when cars hit fire hydrants there is enough damage to report a crash." Sgt. Munter explained that while he was walking up to Marcial's vehicle, he said he didn't "see any damage on the fire hydrant" adding "those things are pretty hearty. So, you want to check the vehicle, and it was a low enough vehicle, like I said, once I made sure he was okay, I could look up and see that there didn't appear to be any damage on the front of the car."
¶7 Judge Seel ruled from the bench, denying Marcial's motion to suppress. The Municipal Court orally found that the "officer turned around believing there may have been an accident, " "there was a fire hydrant close to that, " "the vehicle was already off the roadway at that point, " and "the officer turned around . . . to see if there had been an accident to bring it within the caretaking doctrine." The Municipal Court found further that Sgt. Munter's "first statements to the defendant were asking if he was 'okay' and he got an affirmative response that he was." The Municipal Court concluded that Sgt. Munter could have made "a pretty good determination" that there had not been a collision, but he "could not know with certainty until he had . . . a good look and some conversation with defendant as to whether he had been injured because it was an abrupt stop." Denying Marcial's motion to suppress, the Municipal Court stated, "the caretaker doctrine started the stop and it ripened into a proper DUI investigation." On November 24, 2010, Marcial pled guilty to the amended charge of DUI per se subject to a plea agreement, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.
¶8 Marcial appealed to the Eighteenth Judicial District Court. Judge Holly Brown reviewed the Municipal Court's decision and affirmed the denial of Marcial's motion ...