Monday, February 12, 2018

Minnesota DWI Lawyer F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Littlewind (Decided February 12, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that if there is a clear violation by the police of an arrestee's pre-test right to counsel, a defense attorney is incompetent if he fails to file a motion to suppress.  I wholeheartedly agree!!

In Littlewind, the Defendant was arrested for drunk driving and the police read him the implied-consent advisory, but they refused to allow him to speak with an attorney after he repeatedly asked for one. Littlewind refused to submit to a chemical test. 

Representing Littlewind in his trial for both driving while impaired and chemical-test refusal, Littlewind's attorney never moved the district court to suppress the evidence of his refusal. After the jury convicted Littlewind, he petitioned unsuccessfully for postconviction relief, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. 

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the District Court, ruling that, "Failing to move to suppress evidence related to Littlewind's test refusal fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, so we reverse, invalidating his conviction for test refusal."

The Court of Appeals explained it ruling as follows:

"Because the failure to litigate a suppression motion is Littlewind's principal allegation of ineffectiveness, he must prove that his suppression claim is meritorious and that there is a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different absent the excludable evidence. Kimmelman v. Morrison, All U.S. 365, 375, 106 S. Ct. 2574, 2583 (1986)."

"We begin with the merit of the hypothetical suppression motion. Applying the state constitution, "an individual has the right, upon request, to a reasonable opportunity to obtain legal advice before deciding whether to submit to chemical testing." Friedman v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 473 N.W.2d 828, 835 (Minn. 1991). It is not enough that police officers inform the person of this right, "the police officers must assist in its vindication." Id. (quotation omitted). The officers meet this duty by providing a telephone and allowing a reasonable period for the person to reach and speak with an attorney. Id. The district court must suppress evidence obtained in violation of the right to counsel in the implied-consent context. See State v. Slette, 585 N.W.2d 407, 410 (Minn. App. 1998)."

"The officers here undisputedly did not provide Littlewind a telephone or give him time to contact an attorney, but the state maintains that in this case providing a telephone was unnecessary. This is because the right to consult with counsel before submitting to chemical testing is not absolute. The implied-consent law requires a driver not to frustrate the implied-consent process. State v. Collins, 655 N.W.2d 652, 658 (Minn. App. 2003). The postconviction court agreed with this position, concluding that "[t]he facts of the instant case undoubtedly indicate that Petitioner forfeited his limited right to an attorney through his unreasonable and uncooperative behavior." Our caselaw does not support the conclusion."

"The defendants in Collins and Busch, unlike Littlewind, prevented the implied-consent process from being completed. That process includes an officer's reading of the complete advisory accompanied by the officer's request for a chemical test, the defendant's opportunity to contact an attorney before deciding whether to submit to a chemical test, and the defendant's response to the officer's request for a chemical test. Here, police were able to present the implied-consent advisory completely and Littlewind plainly and repeatedly requested to speak with an attorney. As the district court put it, Littlewind "unequivocally requested an attorney after the implied consent advisory was read." That police read the complete implied-consent advisory and Littlewind then requested an attorney undermines the notion that Littlewind frustrated the implied-consent process."

"To demonstrate that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, Littlewind must also show that his attorney performed below an objective standard of reasonableness. State v. Rhodes, 657 N.W.2d 823, 842 (Minn. 2003). To do so, he must overcome the strong presumption that his attorney's action might be considered sound trial strategy. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689, 104. S. Ct. at 2065. We see no strategic benefit to foregoing a meritorious motion to suppress the most critical evidence in a test-refusal trial, and the state does not offer any benefit. Because his trial counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, Littlewind was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. We therefore reverse his test-refusal conviction."

Moral Of The Story: If you have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI or DUI, you should hire an attorney who knows what they are doing!

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, feel free to contact Minnesota DWI Lawyer, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Minnesota DWI Attorney F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Kube (Decided February 5, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that a person does not have to expressly refuse to submit to testing in order to commit the crime of refusal if the person's conduct indicates they are unwilling to continue with the testing procedure.

In Kube, the Defendant was arrested in Carver County for DWI and was read the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory after being taken to the county jail.  Ms. Kube was emotional and distraught throughout the advisory process.

The arresting officer provided Ms. Kube with telephone books to call an attorney, and she insisted that, because she has Asperger's syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder, she needed an attorney who represents disabled people. Kube eventually contacted an attorney's answering service. When she hung up, she remarked that her cell phone "only works half of the time," so the officer advised her to call back and leave the jail telephone number. Kube became "emotionally overwrought." 

The arresting officer advised her that failing to make a decision would be considered a test refusal. Instead of calling the answering service again, Kube threatened to kill herself, demanded to be taken to the hospital, and asked if she could go to the psych ward. Dascher terminated the implied-consent advisory, and Kube was charged with test refusal.

Ms. Kube waived her right to a jury trial and was found guilty  by the district court of the crime of refusal to submit to chemical testing.  On appeal she argued (among other things) that she did not refuse to submit to testing because the officer never asked her to take the breath test.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed her conviction noting:

"Under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2 (2014), it is a crime for any person who drives a motor vehicle in Minnesota to refuse to submit to chemical testing. When a person does not make an explicit verbal refusal to submit to chemical testing, the state must rely on circumstantial evidence to establish the person's intent. See State v. Ferrier, 792 N.W.2d 98, 101-02 (Minn. App. 2010) (recognizing the legitimacy of circumstantial evidence to establish intent in a test-refusal case), review denied (Minn. Mar. 15, 2011). "[Refusal to submit to chemical testing includes any indication of actual unwillingness to participate in the testing process, as determined from the driver's words and actions in light of the totality of the circumstances." Id. at 102."

The Minnesota Court of Appeals then held:

"The inference that Dascher ended the advisory process before Kube demonstrated her actual unwillingness to submit to testing is also unreasonable. Dascher advised Kube that she could discuss her disabilities with an attorney and that she could use the jail telephone number to receive a return call, but, rather than making another call to reach an attorney, Kube asked to be taken to a psych ward. That conduct indicated an actual unwillingness to participate in the testing process, and Dascher ended the advisory process only after he observed the conduct." Conviction affirmed!

Moral Of The Story: There is more than one way to say "no".


If you or a loved one are facing a Minnesota DWI, feel free to contact Minnesota DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI and DUI questions.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Minneapolis DWI Attorney F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Wenzel v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided January 22, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that the police cannot terminate an individual's pre-test right to counsel without obtaining an unambiguous waiver of that right.

In Wenzel, the Petitioner was arrested for a DWI and, when asked if he wished to speak to an attorney, the Petitioner said yes.  Wenzel then made two calls, leaving a message during one and speaking with his wife during the second. After speaking with his wife, Wenzel did not make or request to make any additional calls. Six minutes later, at 1:54 a.m., the arresting officer asked Wenzel if he would consent to a breath test, and Wenzel refused.

The Petitioner's license was subsequently revoked for refusal to submit to testing and Mr. Wenzel filed a challenge to the revocation in district court, arguing that his right to counsel had been violated.  The District Court sustained the revocation but on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the District Court noting:

"Under the right-to-counsel clause in article I, section 6 of the Minnesota Constitution, an individual has the right, upon request, to a reasonable opportunity to obtain legal advice before deciding whether to submit to chemical testing." Friedman v. Comm 'r of Pub. Safety, 473 N.W.2d 828, 835 (Minn. 1991). The right to counsel is considered vindicated if a person is given a reasonable time to contact and talk with counsel. Id. at 835. "If counsel cannot be contacted within a reasonable time, the person may be required to make a decision regarding testing in the absence of counsel." Id. (quotation omitted). "The right to counsel is limited in DWI cases to ensure that consultation does not unreasonably delay the administration of the test.
***
"In this case, the district court found that Wenzel "declined to attempt to contact another [attorney]" and "had no intention of contacting any other attorney." But these findings of fact lack evidentiary support, and we therefore are left with a firm and definite conviction that the findings are clearly erroneous. Officer Walters testified that he could not recall if Wenzel "made any statements that stated I'm done talking with an attorney." And Wenzel did not testify at the implied-consent hearing. The record reflects that, before asking Wenzel if he would submit to a breath test, Officer Walters did not ask Wenzel if he was done trying to contact an attorney, and Wenzel made no affirmative action, such as a nod or statement, to indicate he was done trying to contact an attorney. And the record contains no evidence that, during the six minutes of attorney-consultation time, Wenzel employed delaying tactics or had decided to stop trying to contact an attorney."
***
"Based on the facts in this case, we conclude that the state did not vindicate Wenzel's limited right to consult with an attorney. We therefore reverse the district court's order sustaining the revocation of Wenzel's driving privileges."

Moral Of The Story: If you have been arrested for a DWI, always, always, always exercise your pre-test right to counsel.  It may turn out to be the best phone call you ever made!

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, or are facing a DWI forfeiture of your motor vehicle, feel free to contact Minneapolis DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.







Monday, January 8, 2018

Minneapolis DWI Lawyer F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Kruse v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided January 8, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that merely touching a fog line with your vehicle constitutes a traffic violation and justifies a traffic stop by the police.

In Kruse, Renville County Sheriff's Deputy Lucas Jacques was approximately three car lengths behind the Appellant's vehicle when he observed it move right and onto the fog line, but not over the fog line. Officer Jacques initiated a traffic stop and identified Kruse as the driver of the vehicle. Kruse performed poorly on field sobriety tests, and Officer Jacques arrested him for DWI.

The district court denied Kruse's motion to suppress and sustained the revocation of his license to drive.  On appeal the issue was does driving a vehicle on a marking that delineates a lane for traffic constitute movement from the lane within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a)?

Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a) states: "When any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly makes lane for traffic (a) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety."

Kruse's argument presumes that driving on the fog line is not movement from a lane because a marking that delineates a lane for traffic is part of the lane. The Minnesota Court of Appeals, however, disagreed stating:

"To determine whether driving on a fog line is movement from a lane and, therefore, a potential violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), we must define the term "lane" within the meaning of the statute. Neither Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), nor the definitional section of chapter 169 defines the term. See Minn. Stat. § 169.011 (2016). Because the term is not technical, we look to dictionary definitions to determine its plain meaning. See Larson, 855 N.W.2d at 301; cf. Minn. Stat. § 645.08 (2016) (stating that in construing statutes, "technical words and phrases and such others as have acquired a special meaning, or are defined in this chapter, are construed according to such special meaning or their definition")."

"The American Heritage College Dictionary defines "lane" as "[a] narrow way or passage between walls, hedges, or fences" and as "[a] strip delineated on a street or highway for a single line of vehicles." The American Heritage College Dictionary 779 (4th ed. 2007). The same dictionary defines "delineate" as "[t]o draw or trace the outline of; sketch out," and it defines "between" as "[i]n or through the position or interval separating." Id. at 136, 375. Combined, these definitions indicate that the markings referred to in Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), delineate lanes for traffic and that the areas between the markings, but not the markings themselves, constitute the lanes."
***
"Under Kruse's implicit reading of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), if two vehicles are driven onto a marking that delineates abutting lanes of traffic, neither driver has moved from his lane and there is no potential violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), even though simultaneously driving on the same marking significantly increases the risk of a motor-vehicle collision. That scenario is inconsistent with the legislative mandate that a vehicle shall not be moved from a lane "until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.'' Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a) (emphasis added). In sum, a conclusion that the markings that delineate lanes for traffic are not part of the lanes within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), is consistent with the statute's plainly stated legislative intent: safety."

Moral Of The Story: Always paint and drive between the lines!

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, or are facing a DWI forfeiture of your motor vehicle, feel free to contact Minneapolis DWI Lawyer, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.





Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Minnesota DWI Lawyer F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Brazil, (Decided December 26, 2017, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that the "uncertainty of measurement" of the Data Master Breath testing machine is not a sufficient basis to reverse a criminal conviction for Third Degree DWI even where the reported test result is a .16.  This is a very bad case for the defense.

In Brazil, the Defendant consented to a breath test, and the DMT device measured and reported appellant's alcohol concentration as 0.16. The Defendant was charged with two counts of third-degree DWI with reference to the aggravating factor of an alcohol concentration of 0.16. The Defendant waived his right to a jury trial, and admitted under oath that he drank enough alcohol to affect his ability to safely drive a motor vehicle before he drove and crashed his car into a parked car. He also admitted that his alcohol concentration was 0.08 or more as measured within two hours of driving. The Defendant denied that his alcohol concentration was 0.16 or more, an element necessary to the gross-misdemeanor charges.

The state presented testimony from Karin Kierzek, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Kierzek testified that every DMT device in use in Minnesota comes to the BCA's lab annually for maintenance checks, calibration, and certification. All machines must provide results within the acceptable 0.003 or 3% margin of error in order to pass calibration. Kierzek also testified that DMT devices have a number of internal and external checks to ensure accuracy. These checks begin with having a trained operator administer the test. The operator observes the subject for at least 15 minutes to verify that the subject is not introducing mouth alcohol by burping, belching, or regurgitating. The DMT device tests itself by running a diagnostic test, which includes using air blanks to clear the sample chamber and ensure that there is no residual alcohol or measurable alcohol in the air surrounding the machine. The subject then provides two breath samples a minimum of three minutes apart to safeguard against measuring mouth alcohol, and a control sample runs between the two breath samples to determine if the instrument is working properly when it evaluates a known alcohol concentration. If the two breath samples from the subject are not comparable, the test results are deemed insufficiently reliable and retesting is suggested.

The DMT results showed that the DMT device used to test appellant's alcohol concentration went through the full sequence of checks and passed all of them. There is no indication of irregularity or malfunction. The air blanks produced readings of zero, meaning that the sample chamber was clear of alcohol. Appellant's first breath sample revealed an alcohol concentration of 0.164. The machine ran another air blank and a control sample with a target of 0.078, which produced a result of 0.077. Kierzek testified that the control sample reading was only 0.001 different than the known sample, which variance she testified was insignificant and meant that the machine was measuring alcohol accurately within tolerable limits. After the control-sample test, the machine ran another air blank, which again tested zero, and then appellant provided a second breath sample, which resulted in an alcohol concentration measurement of 0.175. One final air blank was run to clear the sample chamber and check the room air for any measurable alcohol. It also tested zero. Kierzek testified that appellant's final alcohol concentration was determined by taking the lower of the two reported sample results, 0.164, and dropping the third digit to reach a reported value of 0.16. This method of reporting "give[s] the most benefit to the subject," according to Kierzek's testimony. Based on her review, Kierzek opined that appellant's breath-test results were accurate.

Kierzek also testified that "[t]here is no perfect measurement" and no measurement can ever be absolutely accurate. She testified that there is an uncertainty-of-measurement range within which the tester could have confidence that a high percentage of results would fall. Factors that contribute to the uncertainty of measurement include the area in which the tests are performed, the instructions given by an operator, whether the subject is wearing cologne, and whether the subject has certain medical conditions. She testified that the uncertainty-of-measurement value "merely gives you a range of what you would expect to see given repeated samplings." For appellant's test in particular, Kierzek testified that, at the 99% confidence interval, the expected range of test results would be 0.1504 to 0.1886. The average from appellant's two breath-test results was 0.1695, and Kierzek testified that this is the "most likely result," and that repeated test results "would be symmetric around that point." She also agreed that, had appellant's breath been tested a third time, it could have fallen anywhere within the confidence interval that she identified, from 0.1504 to 0.1886, and agreed that a third test falling anywhere within that range is "a distinct possibility" that is not arbitrary or capricious. Appellant's counsel asked Kierzek whether she could "say that if [appellant's breath] was measured a third time . . . [the result] would be a .18 or if it would be a .15 ... [w]ithout speculating," to which Kierzek responded no.

The District Court found the Defendant guilty of Third Degree DWI i.e. having an alcohol concentration level of .16 or more and on appeal, the Appellant argued that the evidence was not sufficient, because the uncertainty-of-measurement range includes values below 0.16, meaning that some tests of appellant's breath—if enough were done—would be expected to fall below 0.16.

The problem with the Appellant's argument is that once a person has been convicted, the Appellate Court will invoke the rules designed to affirm the factual findings of the District Court. Or, as stated by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in this case:

"In considering the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a conviction, we thoroughly analyze the record "to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to permit the [factfinder] to reach the verdict which [it] did."

"We must assume that the factfinder 'believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary.' State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). 'We will not disturb the verdict if the [factfinder], acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and for the necessity of overcoming it by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that" the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. Bernhardt v. State, 684 N.W.2d 465, 476-77 (Minn. 2004). We have referred to this as the "traditional standard of review.'

"The record contains no measurement of appellant's alcohol concentration lower than 0.16. While appellant argues that the state is required to prove his alcohol concentration within the uncertainty-of-measurement range, our case law has consistently rejected this argument when framed in terms of margin of error." ***

"While these earlier decisions were made in the context of implied-consent cases, they hold that the proponent of a breath test need not prove the measurement to have been absolutely and precisely correct. The proponent must show that 'the necessary steps have been taken to ensure reliability," and after that 'it is incumbent on the driver to suggest a reason why the [breath] test was untrustworthy'".

"The district court accepted the test result as adequate proof of appellant's alcohol concentration. It did so despite testimony that it is possible that a third test of appellant's breath might have revealed a reported result under 0.16. The record supports the district court's factual finding concerning appellant's alcohol concentration. The evidence is sufficient to support appellant's conviction of third-degree DWI."

The Court's opinion in this case is troublesome as it transfers the rejection of the "margin of error" argument in civil cases and applies it to a criminal case.  In a civil case, the burden of proof is just the "preponderance of the evidence" or "more likely than not" standard.  So the fact that a machine has a "margin of error" is not very important where you are just trying to decide if it is more likely than not that the subject was over the legal limit.

But in a criminal case, where the burden of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt" then the uncertainty of measurement should apply to prohibit a conviction where it is known that the machine, testing the same sample repeatedly, is likely to give a result under the legal limit.

Moral Of The Story: Never waive your right to a jury trial!

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, feel free to contact Minnesota DWI Lawyer, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.





Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Minnesota DWI Attorney F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Rice (Decided December 18, 2017, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that if the district court makes a factual finding of "good faith", the Court of Appeals will not overturn the lower court's ruling.

In Rice, the Defendant was stopped for speeding in Olmsted County and was subsequently arrested for DWI.  After reading the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory, the Defendant told the trooper that he wanted to call an attorney prior to testing. The trooper provided the Defendant with a telephone and directories.

The Defendant told the trooper he would not be able to read the directories without glasses. The trooper made two efforts to find reading glasses or a magnifying glass for respondent, but his efforts were unsuccessful. The trooper also suggested that respondent telephone a friend or family member to assist him in contacting an attorney, but respondent declined to do this and said the trooper or another officer should get the glasses that respondent had in his car and bring them to the detention center.   The trooper replied that neither he nor another officer could leave the detention center to go to respondent's car for his glasses.

The Defendant had difficulty recalling the name of the attorney he wanted to call and whose number he wanted. He specifically asked the trooper, "Would you look the number up for me?" The trooper answered, "No sir, I'm not gonna look up a number for you." The Defendant did not take a breath test.

Following a contested omnibus hearing, the district court concluded that the Defendant had not been allowed to vindicate his right to counsel prior to taking a breath test and granted his motions to suppress the evidence of his exchange with the trooper during the implied-consent advisory and to dismiss the test-refusal charge.

The State appealed the district court's ruling but the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the district court, stating:

"An individual who invokes his right to counsel before taking a breath test "must make a good faith and sincere effort to reach an attorney." Kuhn v. Comm 'r of Pub. Safety, 488 N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Oct. 20, 1992). Whether a good faith and sincere effort was made is a factual determination that this court reviews for clear error."

"The district court determined that respondent 'made a good faith effort to contact an attorney' because he repeatedly asked for reading glasses or a magnifying glass so he could read the directories. We agree with the district court that the trooper had no obligation to retrieve respondent's reading glasses from his car or to send another officer to do so, and we note that detention centers have no obligation to provide reading glasses in order to satisfy a driver's right to contact an attorney."

"The district court went on to conclude that the trooper 'could have easily assisted [respondent] in vindicating his right to counsel by looking in the phone book and providing [respondent] with the phone number of the attorney [respondent] requested.' Because respondent did not identify the attorney whose phone number he wanted, the trooper should have asked him for the attorney's name. Had the trooper done so, respondent would have either identified an attorney, whose number the state trooper could have looked up, or have been unable to identify an attorney, and, in that case, the state trooper would have had neither the ability nor the obligation to look up a number. While an officer has no obligation to read a driver all or any part of the list of attorneys provided in a directory, there is an obligation under to assist a driver who is unable to read the directory by asking if there is a specific attorney whom the driver wants to call and, if possible, providing the number of that attorney."

Moral Of The Story:  If you have been arrested for a DWI, always ask to speak to an attorney prior to testing!

If you or a loved one are facing a Minnesota DWI, feel free to contact Minnesota DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI and DUI questions.




Monday, December 11, 2017

Minneapolis DWI Attorney F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Dettmann, which stands for the proposition that the police cannot do an inventory search of a motor vehicle where their primary motivation for the search is the investigation of a crime.

In Dettmann, state trooper Brett Westbrook was patrolling in Pine City, Minnesota and observed a gray vehicle make a quick lane change and move into a parking space in front of the old courthouse. Westbrook ran the vehicle's Wisconsin license plate and learned that the plate was for a Chevy Lumina with suspended registration. However, the gray vehicle Westbrook observed was a Pontiac Bonneville, not a Lumina, prompting Westbrook to pull off the road and wait for the vehicle to drive by him again. A few minutes later, the vehicle drove by and Westbrook followed it. While following the vehicle, Westbrook observed it straddle two lanes of traffic before making a left hand turn. Westbrook activated his lights and siren, and the vehicle drove into a bank parking lot and parked diagonally in the back lot where vehicles are rarely parked.

Westbrook approached the vehicle, and the driver identified himself as appellant Anthony A. Dettmann. Because the license plate on the vehicle was registered to a different vehicle, Westbrook performed a registration check on both the vehicle identification number and the license plate. The vehicle was most recently registered in Minnesota in 2013, to someone other than Dettmann, and there was no stolen vehicle report. Dettmann told Westbrook that he was having trouble transferring the title to the vehicle, and that he had exchanged the license plates from his old vehicle to this vehicle so that he could drive it on the highways. In Wisconsin, as Westbrook later testified, license plates do not follow a vehicle, they follow the owner of the vehicle.

When Westbrook asked for proof of insurance, Dettmann responded that he was unable to provide proof of insurance. Also, when asked for proof of purchase of the vehicle, Dettmann responded that he did not have any paperwork or documentation with him or in the vehicle.   Westbrook was prepared to issue Dettmann citations for driving without a valid driver's license and illegal use of license plates, but had decided not to arrest Dettmann.

Because it was almost 4:30 p.m. and the bank was about to close, Dettmann asked Westbrook if he could go into the bank and cash a check, and Westbrook agreed. While Dettmann was in the bank, Westbrook decided to tow the vehicle because ownership of the vehicle had not been established. Westbrook did not discuss his intention to tow or search the vehicle with Dettmann. After calling for the tow, Westbrook began an inventory search of the vehicle to document items of value. On the front passenger seat, Westbrook discovered a small pouch containing a white crystalline material that later tested positive for 0.063 grams of methamphetamine. He also found a glass pipe in the center console. Westbrook drove his squad car to the bank entrance, and placed Dettmann under arrest when he exited the bank.

Dettmann filed a motion to suppress the drugs, which was denied by the district court.  On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court, noting:

"Inventory searches and "inventory procedures serve to protect an owner's property while it is in the custody of the police, to insure against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and to guard the police from danger,' and 'are considered reasonable because of their administrative and caretaking functions.'(citation omitted).  The traditional requirements of a warrant and probable cause are not implicated when police undertake administrative and caretaking functions precisely because such functions are unrelated to criminal investigations."

"However, because an inventory search only occurs after police have taken custody of a piece of property, an inventory search is only reasonable if taking custody of the property was reasonable."

"Two requirements must be met for an impoundment to comply with the Fourth Amendment. First, an impoundment is reasonable only if the state has an interest in impoundment that outweighs the individual's Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures." (citation omitted). The state's interest in impounding an individual's vehicle can outweigh an individual's right when 'public safety is put at risk by leaving the vehicle in place,' or when impoundment is necessary to protect the property from 'unauthorized interference' and protect police from claims related to leaving the property unattended, such as theft."

"The state concedes that the trooper did not have probable cause to believe that Dettmann's vehicle was stolen and that the "vehicle was not impeding traffic or threatening public safety." The state also makes no assertion that, prior to the seizure of Dettmann's vehicle, Dettmann was incapacitated or under arrest. Instead, the state argues that the impoundment of Dettmann's vehicle was proper based on police caretaking authority to protect the owner's property. "This authority arises 'when it becomes essential for [the police] to take custody of and responsibility for a vehicle due to the incapacity or absence of the owner, driver, or any responsible passenger.' Rohde, 852 N.W.2d at 265."

The Minnesota Court of Appeals then correctly held:

"The district court erred because the driver and owner of the vehicle was present and had capacity to take responsibility for the vehicle. When a driver is arrested, police often will need to do something with the vehicle so it is not left unattended for an indeterminate amount of time. Id. at 266. But 'cases in which the driver of a vehicle is arrested are fundamentally different from cases in which the driver remains free.' Id. (emphasis added). When the driver is free, the driver remains responsible for the vehicle, and police have 'no interest in protecting the property from theft or other claims arising from police control of the vehicle.'"

" [T]he the state argues that it could not release the vehicle to Dettmann because he could not prove that he owned the vehicle, and therefore Westbrook was taking responsibility for the vehicle to prevent theft. But, the question is not whether the state can release the vehicle to Dettmann, but whether it had authority to seize it from him in the first place. Because Dettmann claimed he owned the vehicle, the only way the state could believe ownership of the vehicle was in question was by determining that Dettmann's possession of the vehicle was a crime, which places the seizure outside of a community caretaking function and into the realm of criminal investigation—requiring probable cause."

"The state cannot impound and conduct an inventory search of a vehicle where the state's only motive is criminal investigation, and here the state's only motive was investigating whether Dettmann's possession of this vehicle was a crime...The State concedes there was not probable cause to impound the vehicle and on this basis, the impoundment violated the Fourth Amendment."

Moral Of The Story:  If you are not arrested they cannot search your car. 



If you or a loved one have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, or are facing a DWI forfeiture of your motor vehicle, feel free to contact Minneapolis DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.