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State v. Cantsee

Supreme Court of Nevada

April 3, 2014

THE STATE OF NEVADA, Appellant,
v.
JARVIS DEER CANTSEE, Respondent

Appeal from a district court order granting a motion to suppress evidence in a criminal case. Second Judicial District Court, Washoe County; David A. Hardy, Judge.

Reversed and remanded.

Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, Carson City; Richard A. Gammick, District Attorney, and Joseph R. Plater, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Appellant.

Jeremy T. Bosler, Public Defender, and Christopher P. Frey, Deputy Public Defender, Washoe County, for Respondent.

BEFORE HARDESTY, PARRAGUIRRE and CHERRY, JJ. CHERRY, J., dissenting.

OPINION

Page 889

HARDESTY, J.:

In this appeal, we must determine whether a police officer's citation to an incorrect statute is a mistake of law that invalidates an investigatory traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Respondent Jarvis Deer Cantsee was charged with a felony DUI after being pulled over for driving with a cracked windshield. Deputy Wendy Jason, the investigating officer, testified that she stopped Cantsee because his cracked windshield violated NRS 484D.435. However, NRS 484D.435 does not prohibit operating a vehicle with a cracked windshield.[1] Although the cracked windshield could violate another statute, the district court concluded that Deputy Jason's incorrect citation constituted a mistake of law that invalidated the investigatory stop under the Fourth Amendment and granted Cantsee's motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the traffic stop. We conclude that a police officer's citation to an incorrect statute is not a mistake of law that invalidates an investigatory traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment if another statute nonetheless

Page 890

prohibits the suspected conduct. Therefore, we reverse the district court's order.

FACTS

Deputy Jason pulled over Cantsee after she observed him driving past her in the opposite direction with a " crack across the windshield." Upon pulling him over, Deputy Jason observed that Cantsee appeared to be intoxicated. Cantsee failed the field sobriety and breathalyzer tests, and a subsequent blood test revealed that his blood alcohol levels were above the legal limit. Although Deputy Jason arrested him for felony DUI, violating Nevada's open container law, failing to have car insurance, and driving with a cracked windshield, she confirmed at the preliminary hearing that her sole reason for stopping Cantsee was the cracked windshield.

Cantsee filed a motion to suppress on the ground that Deputy Jason's reason for pulling him over was a mistake of law that invalidated the investigatory traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. He relied on Deputy Jason's citation to NRS 484D.435 that justified stopping him for driving with a cracked windshield because that statute does not prohibit that conduct. In opposition, the State initially argued that the stop was justified for either one of two reasons: first, that a windshield crack would satisfy the reasonable suspicion standard for a possible NRS 484D.435 violation or second, that the windshield crack constituted a safety hazard.

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Deputy Jason testified that she thought Cantsee had violated NRS 484D.435 when she pulled him over. She also stated that she knew at the time of the hearing that NRS 484D.435 was not the correct statute, but that she was never trained to give specific NRS statute numbers whenever she stopped a vehicle. The State then argued for the first time that NRS 484B.163(3),[2] rather than NRS 484D.435, justified the traffic stop. Cantsee objected and argued that the State waived its right to argue NRS 484B.163(3) because this argument was not included in the State's opposition to the motion to suppress. Cantsee also objected to any testimony that the crack in the windshield provided a reasonable suspicion of a violation of NRS 484B.163(3). The court sustained Cantsee's objection and limited the scope of Deputy Jason's testimony to whether the crack in the windshield constituted a safety hazard.

The district court granted the motion to suppress, finding that the investigatory traffic stop based on NRS 484D.435 was not objectively reasonable because that statute does not prohibit driving with a cracked windshield. The court further concluded that the State's arguments as to NRS 484B.163 " unfairly surprised" Cantsee. Thus, the court deemed the State's argument waived because the State did not ...


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