State of Montana v. Larson

Joshua Larson was charged with Driving Under the Influence in District Court in Missoula, Montana. He appealed his DUI/DWI conviction to the Montana Supreme Court, who affirmed the District Court.

While making a traffic stop in Missoula, officers witnessed Larson squeal his tires through an intersection. One of the officers followed Larson, observed that he had over-sized tires and no mud flaps, and initiated a traffic stop. Larson slurred his speech, which lead the to the officer requesting that he perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). The tests produced a “sub-par” performance, leading the officer to request a breath test, wherein Mr. Larson blew a .023 (well below the legal limit). The officer asked to search Larson’s vehicle because he thought Larson might be under the influence of drugs. At that point Larson went to his truck and retrieved a bag of marijuana and a pipe which he admitted to smoking an hour before the stop.

Larson moved to suppress all evidence and statements made during the roadside investigation. He argued a lack of particularized suspicion to justify the stop, a lack of particularized suspicion to justify the FSTs, and that Miranda warnings were required prior to his retrieval of the drugs. The Montana District Court found sufficient particularized suspicion to justify the initial stop, and subsequent evidence justified the continued detention.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that because Larson screeched his tires and revved his engine continually, while crossing a busy intersection, and had a mud-flap violation these two events, along with rational inferences, reasonably warranted the stop.

Likewise, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the FST was warranted based on the particularized suspicion for the stop combined with the subsequently discovered evidence (like Larson’s slurred speech, and other factors in the opinion).

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