Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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

The Minnesota DWI Case of the Week is Kulla v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided June 23, 2014, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished), which stands for the proposition that if an officer does not observe any driving conduct, he better investigate all the facts and circumstances before arresting an individual for DWI.

In Kulla, the Hastings Minnesota Police were called to the Defendant's home in response to a report of domestic abuse.  The Defendant was located in one of the bedrooms of the residence and he told the police that he had driven home from a bar approximately one hour before they arrived at his home.  The police observed that the Defendant had slurred speech, bloodshot and watery eyes and the odor of alcohol coming from his breath (i.e. the holy trinity of cop observations).

Mr. Kulla told the police he had had "plenty to drink" and that he had consumed one to two drinks after arriving at his residence.  The officer did not inquire as to how many drinks the Defendant had consumed at the bar.  The officer did not observe any driving conduct nor did he conduct any field sobriety test at the scene.

The officer arrested Mr. Kulla for DWI based on his observations of the defendant's level of intoxication and based on the knowledge the Defendant had been home for only an hour and had consumed some amount of alcohol.  

The District Court ruled that the officer had probable cause to arrest Mr. Kulla for DWI. But on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed and rescinded the license revocation stating:

"Probable cause to arrest for DWI and to require a chemical test exists when there are facts and circumstances known to the officer which would warrant a 'prudent man' in believing that the individual was driving or was operation or was in physical control of a motor vehicle while impaired. The probable cause standard asks whether the totality of the facts and circumstances known would lead a reasonable officer to entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the suspect has committed a crime. This is an objective inquiry that is conditioned by the officer's own observations, information, and experience".  

"We recognize that, for a probable-cause determination under the implied-consent statute, an officer need not observe a defendant driving. And a driver's admission of alcohol consumption, when combined with other indicia of intoxication, may establish probable cause. But here, the connection between defendant's admission that he drove home from the bar and his appearance of intoxication an hour later is simply to attenuated to establish probable cause to arrest him for DWI...."

"...these circumstances necessitated further investigation, such as asking the defendant how many drinks he had before driving home, or questioning the victim, with whom the defendant had been drinking at the bar.  Because no such investigation occurred, and because the record lacks additional evidence about appellant's alcohol consumption or level of intoxication while driving, the district court erred by concluding that probable cause existed to arrest him for DWI".

MORAL OF THE STORY: If the police work is sloppy, the client should go free!!

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

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

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Zabinski v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided June 2, 2014, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished), which stands for the proposition that an anonymous tip is not sufficient to stop a motor vehicle if the police officer does not observe any driving misconduct.

In Zabinski, an unidentified individual called the police from the area of "Ray's Auto Body Shop" to report a tractor-trailer pulling round hay bales traveling north in the southbound lane of Highway 169.  A police officer headed to the area and observed the Defendant's tractor-trailer with round hay bales traveling south in the south-bound lane of Highway 169.  

The Defendant was pulled over by the officer and, after completing some field sobriety tests, was arrested for DWI.  The District Court upheld the validity of the stop but on appeal, the ruling was reversed.  

The Minnesota Court of Appeals noted that, "An informant is considered anonymous unless he or she provides 'sufficient identifying information'.  And in the present case, the record does not establish the caller was an employee or customer of Ray's Auto Body or if the caller was just near the area at the time of the call".  The caller did not give a name, phone number, or any identifying information.  Thus the police did not have any way to locate the caller to hold him accountable if he was knowingly providing false information.

The Court of Appeals then held: "Although an officer does not have to personally observe illegal driving, an informant must be sufficiently reliable to justify an investigatory stop on the basis of a tip alone.  Here, there is no way to determine the reliability of the caller because he or she did not provide any identifying information.  Not only is there insufficient indication of the tipster's reliability, there is also objective evident of the tipster's unreliability because the vehicle was not observed in the wrong lane."  Therefore, the stop was thrown out and all of the evidence was ordered suppressed!

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