Friday, March 11, 2011

Minnesota DWI Lawyer Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case of the Week is unpublished Minnesota Court of Appeals decision of  State v. Adams, (Decided March 8, 2011) which stands for the proposition that the Courts should rightfully reject the testimony of a state trooper when he, in effect, testifies, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Mr. Adams was arrested for a DWI and his attorney challenged the validity of the initial stop in the district court.  

The attorney had an uphill battle as it is well established that the police can make a limited investigatory traffic stop if the officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion that an occupant of the car is engaged in illegal activity.  The "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity must be based on specific and articulable facts, not on an unarticulated hunch.  The standard is not high and is less than that required for a finding of "probable cause".

At the suppression hearing, the trooper in this case gave three reasons to support the stop:
(1) he believed the bumper on the respondent's car exceeded the legal height limit; (2) the registered owner of the car had a revoked license; and (3) he believed that respondent was watching television while driving the vehicle.

Any one of these observations could provide the reasonable suspicion needed to make the initial stop.  The problem for this particular state trooper, however, was that his squad video did not back up his claims and the district court called him on it!!  As noted by the Minnesota Court of Appeals:

"The district court enumerated its reasons for discounting the trooper's testimony: (1) although the trooper relied heavily at the omnibus hearing on his belief that respondent was watching television while driving, the district court noted that the flickering light described by the trooper was not apparent in the videotape and that the trooper did not mention this as a reason for the stop when he first spoke to the respondent; (2) the trooper stated that he was able to view the driver well enough while driving to determine that he matched the registered owner's description, but in fact the registered owner was six inches taller and 200 pounds heavier than respondent; the registered owner testified at the omnibus hearing and the district court was able to compare the physical appearance between the owner and respondent; (3) although the trooper measured the car's bumper height after stopping respondent and knew that it did not exceed the statutory maximum, he is recorded on the videotape telling respondent that the bumper was too high; (4) at the omnibus hearing, the trooper failed to make out his own words on the videotape when making the disputed statements, despite the fact that the district court could understand his speech.  All these facts led the district court to conclude that the trooper was not credible."

The Court of Appeals then held that the district court did not commit error when it suppressed all of the evidence noting, "The district court here made extensive credibility findings, essentially rejecting much of the trooper's testimony as inherently suspect.  We will reverse the district court's order suppressing evidence only when the state can clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that the district court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous and that the court 'clearly and unequivocally' erred in its legal conclusions. The state has not met this standard."

So in other words, when a trooper lies to a defendant and lies to the district court and the lies are captured on tape it is not error to conclude that the stop was bogus.

Moral of The Story:  It's Not Nice To Try To Fool Mother Nature Or The District Courts!

F.T. Sessoms, Minnesota DWI Attorney, Minnesota DUI Lawyer, Minneapolis DWI Attorney, Minneapolis DUI Lawyer