Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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

The Minnesota DWI Case of the Week is the unpublished Court of Appeals decision of  State v. Butcher, (decided August 17, 2011) which stands for the proposition that if you have eleven prior DWI convictions it might be a good idea to never come near the wheel of an automobile!

 In  Butcher, a Park Rapids police officer was on routine patrol shortly before midnight when he noticed a vehicle parked in a commercial area with its lights on.  As he approached the vehicle, the officer noticed Mr. Butcher get into the driver's seat of the car.  The officer saw the vehicle's lights turn off but was unable to recall whether the vehicle's engine was running.  The officer observed the keys in the ignition and that there was a female passenger in the front seat.

Mr. Butcher was drunk and was subsequently convicted of Felony DWI and was sentenced to prison for 79 months.  On appeal, Butcher argued that he could not be convicted of DWI because the state did not introduce sufficient evidence to establish that he drove, operated or was in physical control of a motor vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1 (1), (5).  Butcher claimed on appeal that the circumstantial evidence equally supported the conclusion that the female passenger had been driving the vehicle before it came to a stop along the road where the officer noticed it.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals had little problem dismissing Butcher's claim noting, "In this case the undisputed direct evidence shows that Butcher was in physical control of the vehicle as he sat behind the wheel of the vehicle with the key in the ignition, and this evidence is sufficient to sustain his DWI convictions. See, State v. Fleck, 777 N.W.2d 233, 235 (Minn. 2010) (holding that evidence of a person sleeping behind the wheel of his vehicle with the keys in the center console of the vehicle demonstrates physical control of the vehicle sufficient to sustain a conviction of DWI).

"The term 'physical control' in Minnesota's DWI laws is meant to cover situations when an intoxicated person 'is found in a parked vehicle under circumstances where the vehicle, without too much difficulty, might again be started and become a source of danger to the operator, to others, or to property'. State v. Starfield, 481 N.W.2d 834, 837 (Minn. 1992).  Plainly, Butcher's position behind the wheel of the vehicle along with the fact that the key was in the ignition satisfied the definition of physical control.  There is no merit to Butcher's argument that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he was in physical control of a motor vehicle for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1 (1), (5).

Moral Of The Story:  Never ever get in a vehicle while drunk unless you are a passenger.

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