Monday, August 11, 2014

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

The Minnesota DWI Case of the Week is State v. Rice, (Issued August 11, 2014, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that if you are drunk and make it home, do not answer the door!   

In Rice, Sergeant Daniel Wilson of the Maple Grove Police Department received a dispatch informing him that three callers reported that a white Chevy SUV was driving erratically and ran over a road sign, and that the driver threw a champagne bottle out the window.  One caller reported seeing the vehicle pull into a garage, and all three callers identified the license-plate number.  

Sergeant Wilson ran the reported plate and arrived at the registered address, which matched the location where the caller saw the vehicle enter a garage. 

Respondent Becky Ann Rice's husband answered the door, and Sergeant Wilson asked if anyone at the house owned a white Chevy SUV. Husband said yes, and stated that Rice had probably been driving it.

Sergeant Wilson asked if Rice was home; the parties dispute how husband responded.

Then, the following exchange ensued:

SERGEANT WILSON: Ok, I'll be honest with you. I'm following up on a traffic complaint. Ok? I have reason to believe that the vehicle's here. OK? Somebody who just called watched the vehicle arrive home. So, is that correct or is that not correct? If you're lying to me.

HUSBAND: I, I have no knowledge ....

SERGEANT WILSON: Hear me out, if you're lying to me, OK, I will charge you criminally with lying to me. Ok, cause this is a criminal investigation right now.

The Husband led Sergeant Wilson through the house and into the attached garage, where they found the SUV and Rice slumped over in the driver's seat.   Sergeant Wilson arrested Rice for driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Rice moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the garage on the grounds that husband's consent to the search was not voluntary. The district court granted Rice's motion, finding that Sergeant Wilson's threat to charge husband with a crime was coercive and that Sergeant Wilson obtained husband's consent only in response to the threat of potential arrest. The state appealed the District Court but the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ms. Rice stating:

“The United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures and, with few exceptions, warrantless searches are unreasonable. But a warrant is not necessary if a person voluntarily consents to a requested search. The state bears the burden of demonstrating consent was voluntarily given. Whether consent is voluntary under the totality of the circumstances is a question of fact, which we review for clear error.”

"The totality of the circumstances includes "the nature of the encounter, the kind of person the [consenter] is, and what was said and how it was said." Consent is voluntary if "a reasonable person would have felt free to decline the officer['s] requests or otherwise terminate the encounter."  But "[m]ere acquiescence on a claim of police authority or submission in the face of a show of force" is not voluntary consent. (citations omitted)”

“…The record supports the district court's finding that husband consented to the search only in response to the threat of potential arrest. The recording reveals that the request to search came within 15 seconds of Sergeant Wilson's two references to husband's possible lying and threat to criminally charge husband if he was doing so. Husband was not told that he could withhold consent and stated that he let Sergeant Wilson in the garage because he felt that he would otherwise be arrested."

"Second, while Sergeant Wilson did not brandish his weapon during the brief discussion, the record shows that he did assert his authority. Sergeant Wilson was in uniform and carried a gun. And the officer's language, although respectful, was persistent and authoritative during the encounter.” 

“Ultimately, the district court carefully reviewed the evidence, expressly evaluated the testimony of the witnesses, and found that "the totality of the circumstances make clear that Mr. Rice's acquiescence to the search was obtained only in response to the threat of potential arrest." We defer to a district court's credibility determinations.”

“Accordingly, the district court did not err by suppressing the evidence.”

Moral of the Story: When The Police Throw Their Weight Around, Sometimes The Case Gets Thrown Out Of Court!

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