Believe it or not, Minnesota courts often engage in defining simple words, such as “stop” and “at”. This exercise even occurs at Minnesota’s highest court – the supreme court. Recently, it did just that in State v. Gibson, Jr.
This case addressed whether a peace officer has a lawful basis to stop a driver who fails to stop their vehicle at the stop line or stop sign before coming to a complete stop. In driver’s education, we are taught that is where you are supposed to stop when approaching a stop sign according to the law. Every day, we see drivers pull past a stop sign before coming to a complete stop to get a better look at traffic. We may even do this ourselves multiple times a day. Often, people do not get pulled over by the police.
In this case, the driver was on the interstate and pulled off at an exit. There was a stop sign at the end of the ramp with a white stop line painted on the road. The driver rolled his vehicle entirely past the painted stop line before his vehicle came to a complete stop. The officer pulled him over, questioned him about his travels, and asked him for consent to search his vehicle. Upon searching the vehicle, the officer found blank checks, a printer, a computer, and several identification cards of unknown individuals. The driver was arrested and charged with felony aggravated forgery and gross misdemeanor giving a false name to a peace officer.
At the district court level, the driver’s attorney moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search. The defense attorney argued the officer did not have a valid basis to stop the driver’s vehicle. The district court agreed by interpreting the law to mean a driver must stop at the intersection, not the stop sign or stop line. The prosecution appealed the matter to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. There, the appellate court reversed the district court by deciding the statute requires a driver to “stop at, near, or in proximity to the stop sign and stop line.” The driver petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court for review. Surprisingly, the court granted review. Maybe it just wanted to get in on the fun of defining common words.
The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In doing so, it decided that a driver violates the law if the vehicle drives past the stop sign or stop line before coming to a complete stop. The court reasoned its holding based on the plain meaning of the statute. It rebuffed the driver’s creative arguments for an ambiguous definition of “stop” and “at”.
Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense attorney and DWI lawyer in Minnesota. Super Lawyers named him a Rising Star for the past five years; and the National Trial Lawyer’s Organization named him a Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer the past seven years. He is an adjunct professor at both the University of Minnesota Law School and Hamline Mitchell School of Law. DWI Lawyer Woodbury MN; Criminal Defense Lawyer Minnesota; and DWI Attorney Twin Cities.