RUSTY K. MEYER, Appellant,
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee
from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Palmer,
Vanessa H. White, Judge. Trial Court No. 3PA-11-014 CR.
Mock, under contract with the Public Defender Agency, and
Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the
K. Chleborad, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal
Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General,
Juneau, for the Appellee.
Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard, Judge.
Appellant, Rusty K. Meyer, seeks rehearing of our earlier
decision in this case: Meyer v. State, unpublished,
2015 WL 1604860 (Alaska App. 2015).
was convicted of felony driving under the influence based on
evidence obtained during Meyer's encounter with the
police at a fireworks stand on the Parks Highway. Before his
trial, Meyer filed a motion to suppress this evidence,
arguing that the police had subjected him to an investigatory
stop without the necessary reasonable suspicion to justify
superior court held an evidentiary hearing and made findings
of fact regarding what exactly happened during Meyer's
encounter with the police. Based on its findings of fact, the
superior court concluded that Meyer's encounter with the
police amounted to an investigatory stop for purposes of the
Fourth Amendment. But the superior court denied Meyer's
suppression motion because the court concluded that this
investigatory stop was supported by reasonable suspicion.
appeal, this Court upheld the superior court's decision
on a different ground: we concluded that, given the facts
found by the superior court, Meyer's encounter with the
police did not amount to an investigatory stop -- thus making
the issue of reasonable suspicion moot. Meyer, 2015
WL 1604860 at *2-3.
petition for rehearing, Meyer concedes that an appellate
court is authorized to affirm a lower court's ruling
using a legal analysis that is different from the
one the lower court used. That is, Meyer implicitly
acknowledges that, in such circumstances, an appellate court
need not defer to the lower court's differing legal
analysis of the case, but can instead apply its own
independent legal analysis.
Meyer argues that our decision in his case did not rest on a
rejection of the superior court's legal
analysis. Rather, Meyer contends, our decision rested on a
rejection of a finding of fact made by the superior
specifically, Meyer argues that the superior court's
Fourth Amendment conclusion -- that Meyer was subjected to an
investigatory stop -- was a finding of fact that we were
required to defer to, and not a conclusion of law that we
could independently review.
support this argument, Meyer relies on decisions of the
Alaska Supreme Court which declare that a court's ruling
as to whether a person was seized for Fourth Amendment
purposes is a finding of fact -- a finding that is reviewed
under the deferential " clearly erroneous" standard
of review. See Majaev v. State, 223 P.3d
629, 631 (Alaska 2010); Waring v. State, 670 P.2d
357, 364 n. 15 (Alaska 1983).
Meyer is correct on this point, then this Court committed
error when we independently reviewed the superior court's
conclusion that Meyer's encounter with the police
constituted an investigatory stop. For as Meyer points out,
an appellate court is not authorized to use its independent
judgement when assessing the facts of a case under the "
clearly erroneous" standard of review. Instead, an
appellate court must defer to the lower court's view of
the facts: we must accept the facts as found by the lower
court unless, based on the record, we are left " with a
definite and firm conviction ... that a mistake has been
we explain in this opinion, even though our supreme court
declared in Waring and Majaev that it is a
" question of fact" whether a person's
encounter with the police constituted a seizure for Fourth
Amendment purposes, the supreme court did not actually follow
this rule in either Waring or Majaev.
Instead, the supreme court decided the Waring and
Majaev appeals using the principle that appellate
courts normally apply to all types of cases: A trial
court's findings of historical fact are reviewed
deferentially, under the " clearly erroneous"
standard; but the proper legal categorization of
those facts -- i.e., the assessment of the legal
consequences of the trial court's findings of fact -- is
a question of law that the appellate court evaluates de
the principle that applies to appellate review of trial court
rulings regarding whether a Fourth Amendment seizure took
place -- i.e., rulings as to whether particular
police conduct constituted an investigatory stop or an
arrest. And, indeed, this is the principle that the supreme
court applied in Waring and Majaev.
this Court acted correctly when we independently evaluated
whether the facts of Meyer's case constituted an
closer look at the Alaska Supreme Court's decisions in
Waring and Majaev
question that we have been discussing has its origin in
footnote 15 of the Waring opinion, 670 P.2d at 364.
In this footnote, the supreme court declared that "
[w]hether a seizure has occurred is a question of fact."
the Waring court then explained, " the superior
court [in Waring's case] did not make a specific finding
[on the question of whether] a seizure occurred."
Ibid. If the question of whether a seizure occurred
were truly a question of fact, then one would expect the
supreme court to have remanded Waring's case to the trial
court so that the trial judge could make a finding on this
Criminal Rule 12(d) requires trial judges to make explicit
findings of fact when adjudicating suppression motions. When
a trial judge fails to make all the findings necessary to
resolve a suppression ...