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City of Helena v. Brown

Supreme Court of Montana

October 10, 2017

CITY OF HELENA, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CHRISTOPHER G. BROWN, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 13, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. BDC-2015-411 Honorable DeeAnn Cooney, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Ryan W. Aikin, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Kristina L. Neal, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          JIM RICE JUSTICE.

         ¶1 The State of Montana appeals the order entered by the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, reversing the Helena Municipal Court's order denying Christopher Brown's motion to suppress evidence related to his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). We reverse the District Court's order, addressing the following issue:

         Did the District Court err by concluding that particularized suspicion did not exist for the investigatory stop?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 On March 4, 2015, at around 2 a.m., Officer Noal Petty initiated a traffic stop near the walking mall on Last Chance Gulch in Helena. While engaged in the stop, Officer Petty heard a vehicle excessively revving its engine in the small parking garage located on the walking mall and became concerned that the driver's intention was to squeal its tires or to exit the garage unsafely at a high rate of speed. Because he was occupied with a traffic stop, Officer Petty radioed to see if another officer was available to investigate.

         ¶3 Officer John Cook was already en route to provide backup to Officer Petty for the initial traffic stop. As Officer Cook was arriving, Officer Petty saw a pickup truck exit the parking garage and pull up to the intersection between the parking garage and Officer Petty's location. As both parties acknowledge, Officer Petty again heard the revving of an engine, but this time seeing the source vehicle. Officer Petty pointed out the truck to Officer Cook and told Officer Cook to stop the vehicle.

         ¶4 Officer Cook headed toward the pickup truck and saw the truck emit a large quantity of smoke as it pulled away from the intersection, and suspected from the excessive smoke that Brown was operating a non-compliant vehicle. Officer Cook initiated a stop of the truck based on the directive he received from Officer Petty and his own observation of excessive smoke. The driver of the vehicle was Christopher Brown, who acknowledged revving the engine. The stop thereafter ripened into a DUI investigation, resulting in Brown's arrest on that charge.

         ¶5 In the Municipal Court, Brown moved to suppress evidence obtained from the traffic stop, arguing Officer Cook did not have particularized suspicion of wrongdoing to justify the traffic stop. The Municipal Court denied the motion, reasoning that particularized suspicion for Officer Cook's stop arose "because of the excessive smoke, " but that, even if Officer Cook did not have the requisite particularized suspicion based upon his own observations, "the stop may nonetheless be made if the [] officer receives from another officer a request to stop the vehicle if the other officer from whom the request was received possessed a reasonable suspicion that a criminal conduct had occurred, was occurring, or was about to occur."

         ¶6 Brown appealed to the District Court, which reversed the Municipal Court, reasoning that:

The trial court's finding that Brown was apprehended under Mont. Code Ann. § 61-9-403, for a mechanical violation because he had a faulty muffler or poorly adjusted engine, is clearly erroneous. Brown was stopped for alleged behavior. As stated repeatedly by the testifying officers, Brown was believed by the reporting officer to have excessively revved his engine and by the arresting officer to have produced excessive smoke due to revving. However, even if it was assumed that the same truck both revved loudly ...

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