Wednesday, September 21, 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The Minnesota DWI Case of the Week is unpublished Minnesota Court of Appeals decision of  State v. Darling,  (decided September 19, 2011), which asks the question, "When is a seizure not a seizure?" Answer: When the Court of Appeals says it is not.

On June 8, 2010, Mr. Darling, after a night of heavy drinking, decided to park his car in front of a locked gate at the entrance to a compost site in Moorhead, Minnesota.  A police officer observed the parked vehicle at 12:15 a.m. and thought this was suspicious because the compost site had been closed for hours and the officer knew that there had been criminal activity at the compost site the previous summer.  The officer parked his marked squad car behind Mr. Darling's vehicle, partially blocking it and shined his spotlight on the vehicle.  Then officer then walked up to vehicle where he found Mr. Darling sleeping.  Things went downhill from there and Mr. Darling was ultimately arrested for drunk driving.

On appeal, Mr. Darling contended the officer's action in partially blocking his vehicle and shining the spotlight on him constituted a "seizure" and that said seizure was illegal as at the time it occurred, the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  In deciding the issue, the Court of Appeals correctly noted, "Ordinarily, the mere act of a police officer approaching a person sitting in a parked car and asking questions is not a seizure.  (citations omitted) But such an encounter may become a seizure if there is a demonstration of authority that exceeds the behavior to be expected by a private citizen, such as blocking in a person's vehicle, activating emergency lights, or sounding the horn. State v. Sanger, 420 N.W.2d 241, 243 (Minn. App. 1988)".  So far, so good for Mr. Darling.  But then the Court of Appeals ruled that no seizure occurred since the car was only "partially blocked" and the officer did not use his horn or his emergency lights but only used his spotlight!!

I respectfully submit that the Court's position is incorrect.  Since when is it customary for a private citizen to partially block another private citizen's vehicle and then shine a spotlight on said vehicle?  The standard for whether a seizure has occurred is whether a "reasonable person" would believe that he or she has been seized.  And if a police officer pulls up in a marked squad car and partially blocks a person's vehicle and then shines a spotlight on the occupant, I respectfully submit that a reasonable person would conclude that a "seizure" has occurred.

The Court of Appeals reached the correct result as the police officer had a sufficient legal basis to make the initial seizure.  But to rule, as the Court of Appeals did, that no "seizure" occurred is just plain wrong.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you are going to go green and compost, do it when you are sober!

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