Monday, April 25, 2016

Minneapolis DWI Attorney Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Kuehn v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided April 25, 2016, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that speculation as to the accuracy of blood test results is not sufficient to exclude the test results from evidence.

In Kuehn, the Petitioner was arrested for DWI by the Minnesota State Patrol on June 26, 2014. The Petitioner was taken to Lakeview Hospital in Washington County where he agreed to submit to a blood test.  The state trooper provided the medical technologist with a BCA approved DWI blood-draw kit and after a sample was obtained from the Petitioner, the trooper sealed the blood-test kit and subsequently delivered it to his district office.

The blood sample was received by the Minnesota BCA on July 1, 2014 and was analyzed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on July 8 and 9.  Until the BCA received the sample, it was not refrigerated, but the blood-test vial contained preservatives that prevent most degradation by heat.

The Petitioner had a blood-test expert testify at the license revocation hearing.  The expert claimed that many things could affect the accuracy of the testing, including the Petitioner's diabetes, exposure to heat, discrepancies in the amount of preservatives in the blood-test kit and contamination by the yeast Candida albicans.  The expert did not testify that any of these factors actually affected Kuehn's test result, but he speculated about the effect such factors could have on a blood sample.

The State's expert witness testified that she conducted the BCA analysis of Kuehn's blood sample.  She testified that the sample was refrigerated after it arrived a the BCA and that preservatives in the blood kit prevented fermentation of the sample from heat.  She testified that she observed no irregularities during the testing of the sample and that the sample was analyzed on two different days on two different gas chromatograph columns.

The state's expert also testified that tests are run on different columns because "[e]ach has its own chemistry which separates the volatiles differently. And it is done on two different columns to ensure identification of ethanol, as well as the reliability of the result." The results indicated that Kuehn had an alcohol concentration of 0.1551 or 0.1581.

The state's expert explained that the different peaks on the printed results indicated the presence of other compounds, including the presence of acetone, and that they were not unusual for someone with an underlying health problem like Kuehn, who is diabetic. But she also testified that the presence of these other compounds does not affect the ultimate ethyl-alcohol result. She affirmed that the computer software corrects for non-resolution, and does so by slightly lowering the ethyl-alcohol concentration. She stated that heat can degrade a blood sample, but there must also be some sort of bacteria or impurity, and the stabilizing agent slows any breakdown. The BCA is not concerned about possible Candida albicans contamination because it is relatively rare and the subject would most likely be hospitalized.

The District Court sustained the license revocation and on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed, stating:

"The commissioner, as the proponent of a chemical test, has the burden to establish a prima facie case that the test was reliable and appropriate procedures were followed to ensure reliability. Genung v. Comm 'r of Pub. Safety, 589 N.W.2d 311,313 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. May 18, 1999). The burden then shifts to the party opposing admission of chemical testing results to demonstrate why the test is not reliable or accurate. Id. The commissioner bears the ultimate burden of persuasion. But "arguing that something might have occurred is mere speculation and insufficient [to rebut chemical testing results] unless supported by additional evidence. [An appellate court] requires that the driver establish a relationship between the alleged error and the validity of the results."

In this case, the Petitioner's expert testified that various factors might have effected the blood test result.  But without any proof that any of these factors did, in fact, effect the test result, the revocation will be sustained.

Moral of The Story:  You can lead a court to water, but you can't make it drink.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, feel free to contact Minneapolis DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.

Monday, April 4, 2016

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

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Roehler (Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished, Decided April 4, 2016) which stands for the proposition that if the police obtain a warrantless blood draw as permitted under binding appellate precedent, then even if the precedent is overturned, the test result is permissible as the officer was acting in "good faith".

In Roehler, the Defendant was involved in a head-on collision in Minnesota when he crossed the centerline of Highway 34 and collided with a van traveling in the opposite direction.  The van driver was killed and its two other passengers were injured. Roehler was seriously injured and was transported by ambulance to be airlifted for treatment in Fargo, North Dakota.

A warrantless blood draw was taken from Mr. Roehler at the hospital which revealed a blood alcohol level of .05.  At trial, a BCA expert extrapolated back to the time of the accident and estimated at the time of said accident, the Defendant's blood alcohol level was between .08 and .14.

The Defendant was convicted of all the charges and he appealed his conviction.  While Roehler's appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court in Missouri v. McNeely, ruled that dissipation of alcohol in the blood does not constitute a per se exigency that permits a warrantless nonconsensual blood draw that would otherwise violate the Fourth Amendment, and that exigency must be decided on a case-by-case basis with reference to the totality of the circumstances.

The Court of Appeals reversed Roehler's conviction based upon the McNeely decision and the prosecution sought further review from the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The Minnesota Supreme Court then sent the case back to the Court of Appeals to determine whether the test result evidence should be suppressed if the police were acting in "good faith".

In today's decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals notes that at the time of Roehler's blood draw, the Minnesota Supreme Court had held (in State v. Shriner) that, "a nonconsensual blood draw was a reasonable search that could be made without a warrant because the rapid dissipation of alcohol created an exigent circumstance that provided an exception to the warrant requirement." So at the time of Roehler's accident, the binding appellate precedent of Shriner permitted a warrantless blood draw in an accident involving suspected criminal vehicular homicide.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals then explains that, "In its recent opinion in Lindquist, the Minnesota Supreme Court recognized a narrow good-faith exception to the warrant requirement when a police officer "acts in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent" and "the binding precedent. . . specifically authorize[s] the behavior."

Since the accident occurred while State v. Shriner was still good law (i.e. before the United States Supreme Court ruling in McNeely), the Minnesota Court of Appeals then held, "Despite the factual differences between this case and Lindquist, we nevertheless conclude that law enforcement was acting under the limited good-faith exception set forth in Lindquist, and the warrantless blood draw taken from Roehler at the hospital was lawful."

MORAL OF THE STORY: The police can violate the Fourth Amendment as long as they do so in good faith.