Friday, December 14, 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 State v. Poehler (Decided December 10, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that a mere crack in a windshield is not sufficient to justify a stop of a motor vehicle.

In Pohler, a Cambridge police officer saw a car being driven with a cracked windshield.  The officer stopped the car and spoke with the driver, James Poehler.  Mr. Pohler was slurring his words and a preliminary breath test indicated a breath alcohol level of .174%.  Mr. Pohler was charged with a DWI.

The defense moved to suppress all of the evidence contending that the officer stopped him without reasonable suspicion.  The district court denied the motion and on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court, stating:

"Poehler’s argument requires us to answer whether an officer’s seeing any windshield crack—regardless of its extent—constitutes a reasonable basis for the officer to suspect that the driver is violating the obstructed-vision statute, Minnesota Statutes, section 169.71, subdivision 1(a)(1) (2018). That statute prohibits a person from driving a “motor vehicle with ... a windshield cracked or discolored to an extent to limit or obstruct proper vision.” The question of whether a stop can rest on the appearance of a crack alone, regardless of the extent of the crack, is one of first impression. Other cases have involved stops resting on an extensively cracked windshield or on cracks of undescribed extent where the validity of the stop was not challenged or decided on appeal. For example, in State v. Varnado, the supreme court considered the appeal of a defendant whom officers stopped after they “observed a car with a shattered windshield,” 582 N.W.2d 886, 888 (Minn. 1998), but “that stop [was] not being contested.” Id. at 893 (Gilbert, J., dissenting). This court later considered a stop involving a police officer who had “pulled the pickup over, believing that he saw a windshield severely cracked and, thus, obstructing the driver’s view,” and there we held that “the stop itself was proper.” State v. Miller, 659 N. W.2d 275, 277-78 (Minn. App. 2003); see also State v. Tomaino, 627 N.W.2d 338, 340 (Minn. App. 2001) (“The parties agree that the cracked windshield provided a legal basis for the investigatory stop.”). This is the first case where we are asked whether every windshield crack of any extent justifies a police stop under the obstracted-vision statute. Our answer is no."

"The statute’s qualifier, “to an extent to,” informs us that not every cracked windshield constitutes a violation. A person violates the statute only by driving with a windshield crack that, because of its characteristics, such as its location and its size, severity, or shape, limits or obstructs the driver’s vision."

"The district court justified the stop on an unsupported ground"

Moral Of The Story:  Sometimes a stop is not all it is cracked up to be!

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.

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