State v. Strom

State v. Strom, 2014 MT 234 (Sept. 2, 2014) (5-0) Rice, J.

Issue: Whether the police officer had particularized suspicion to seize Strom.

Short Answer: No.

Reversed & remanded

Facts: Chelsea Strom and a 16-year-old friend of hers, S.J., were sitting in a parked van at Stodden Park in Butte the morning after Christmas, 2011. The park was open. No one else was there. Officer Heard noticed the van and thought is suspicious. He approached the driver’s side of the van and noticed how young the driver looked, so he asked her for her driver’s license. S.J. replied that she didn’t have one and handed him her school ID. He then asked Strom for her ID. When he ran both, he learned that S.J. did not have a driver’s license and that Strom had a warrant from Stillwater County for failure to appear. He returned to the van, told Strom to step outside, and placed her under arrest.

At the detention center, Strom gave the officer a baggie filled with a white substance and stated it was crystal meth. Strom was charged with possession.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Strom moved to suppress the evidence, arguing Officer heard lacked particularized suspicion to perform an investigatory stop.  The state argued it was not an investigatory stop, but that the officer had discovered the warrant after a voluntary conversation with citizens who were free to leave at any time. The district court denied Strom’s motion, finding there had been no seizure for which particularized suspicion was required. Strom appeals, and the Supreme Court reverses.

Reasoning: A peace officer may stop an individual to conduct a brief investigation is the person or vehicle is “observed in circumstances that create a particularized suspicion that the person or occupant of the vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.” § 46-5-401(1), MCA. “A person has been seized if, after viewing all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would not have believed that he or she was free to leave.” ¶ 10.

Here, both women were seized. The Court finds no objective data justifying a seizure or stop of Strom. Although S.J. is not a defendant, the officer lacked particularized suspicion to stop or seize her as well.