Monday, December 3, 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The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Shepard (Decided December 3, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that turning on the emergency lights of a squad car does not automatically constitute a seizure.  I don't think this is a very well-reasoned case.  

In Shepard, Deputy McKane received a report that a vehicle had crashed into the ditch of U.S. Highway 69 in a rural part of Freeborn County approximately two miles south of Albert Lea. In addition, Deputy McKane learned from the dispatcher that a man wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants was walking along the highway near the crashed vehicle.

Deputy McKane first inspected the vehicle in the ditch, which was unoccupied. Deputy McKane believed that the vehicle had been traveling in the southbound lane before it veered across the northbound lane and entered the ditch on the east side of the highway. Deputy McKane saw damage to the front of the vehicle and a “spider-webbed crack” in the vehicle’s windshield.

Deputy McKane then drove south and, after approximately two miles, saw a man wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants walking on the shoulder of the highway in a southerly direction. Deputy McKane turned on his squad car’s overhead emergency lights, pulled up behind the man, stopped his squad car on the shoulder, and exited the squad car. Deputy McKane approached the man, later identified as Shepherd, and had a brief conversation with him. Deputy McKane first asked Shepherd whether he had crashed the vehicle that was in the ditch; Shepherd responded that he had. Deputy McKane then asked Shepherd why he had crashed. Shepherd said that he had consumed “a couple drinks” a few hours earlier. Deputy McKane could smell alcohol on Shepherd’s breath and saw that he had bloodshot and watery eyes. Deputy McKane also observed that Shepherd was confused about where he was going because he pointed south when saying that he was walking to Albert Lea when, in fact, he should have pointed north. Deputy McKane administered field sobriety tests, which Shepherd failed, and administered a preliminary breath test, which indicated that Shepherd was intoxicated.

The Defendant was subsequently charged with DWI and he moved to suppress all of the evidence on the basis that the officer did not have a sufficient reason to justify his seizure by the side of the road.  The Defendant argued that the when the officer activated his squad emergency lights, he was seized by the police without sufficient cause.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals however ruled that no seizure occurred which, frankly, does not make much sense.  The Court of Appeals correctly noted that:

"Although a law-enforcement officer may seize a person based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, “[n]ot all encounters between the police and citizens constitute seizures.” State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999). An officer does not conduct a seizure merely because the officer approaches a person in a public place and asks the person a few questions. In re Welfare ofE.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 781-82 (Minn. 1993); State v. Houston, 654 N.W.2d 727, 731-32 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Mar. 26, 2003). Rather, under Minnesota law, a person is seized only if, given the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in that situation would not feel free to terminate the encounter."

The Court of Appeals then states, "At oral argument, Shepherd emphasized Deputy McKane’s use of his squad car’s overhead emergency lights. That fact does not make the encounter a seizure."  

Nonsense.  When the police turn on their emergency lights or "take-down" lights the purpose is to make the person stop and interact with the officers.  No reasonable person would feel that they are "free to terminate the encounter" and the Court's ruling to the contrary is just lame.

Moral of the Story:  When the lights come on, ask the officer if you are free to leave.  

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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