Monday, August 29, 2016

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

The Minnesota DUI Case Of The Week is State v. Halverson, which stands for the proposition that if the registered owner of a vehicle has a driver's license that is revoked, the police may stop the vehicle even if they do not know who is driving as long as the police do not have information which is inconsistent with the physical  description of the owner.

In Halverson. the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department received a call on June 27, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.  The caller  reported that a blue BMW with license plates 145-GMG was driving extremely slowly and weaving all over the road.  The police responded to the call and eventually found the vehicle, unoccupied,  parked in a parking lot.  The police ran a computer check and found that the vehicle was registered to the defendant and that her license was revoked.

Two hours later, the police saw the vehicle leave the parking lot and they initiated a traffic stop of the automobile.  The Defendant was behind the wheel and she smelled of alcohol.  She subsequently failed some field sobriety tests and was arrested for DWI.

The Defendant filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence alleging that the initial stop was unconstitutional.  The district court ruled that the stop was lawful and on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, noting:

"State v. Pike is dispositive of the issue in this case. 551 N.W.2d 919 (Minn. 1996). In Pike, an officer observed a vehicle traveling at a low speed, became suspicious, ran a computer check, and discovered that the registered owner of the vehicle had a revoked driver's license. Id. at 921. The officer observed that the driver of the vehicle was a man who appeared to be in the same age category as the registered owner and stopped the vehicle. Id. at 920-21."

"The supreme court held that 'it is not unconstitutional for an officer to make a brief, investigatory, Terry-type stop of a vehicle if the officer knows that the owner of the vehicle has a revoked license so long as the officer remains unaware of any facts which would render unreasonable an assumption that the owner is driving the vehicle.' Id. at 922. The supreme court reasoned that '[w]hen an officer observes a vehicle being driven, it is rational for him or her to infer that the owner of the vehicle is the current operator." Id. However, such an inference would be unreasonable when, for example, the officer knows "that the owner is a 22-year-old male, and the officer observes that the person driving the vehicle is a 50- or 60-year-old woman.' Id."

"Halverson contends that the facts of this case fall within the Pike exception. Halverson argues that "[u]nlike the officer in Pike, Rosati did not have any information about the appearance of either the earlier or later driver to create the reasonable inference that the revoked registered owner was the driver." She further argues that "without this information, any reasonable suspicion that the driver was the primary owner with a revoked license evaporated.'"

"Halverson misconstrues Pike's holding. Pike does not require an officer to observe or otherwise confirm that a driver's physical appearance is consistent with that of the vehicle's registered owner before stopping the vehicle based on the owner's revoked status. To the contrary, '[w]hen an officer observes a vehicle being driven, it is rational for him or her to infer that the owner of the vehicle is the current operator.' Id. Thus, Officer Rosati's failure to observe the driver's appearance before stopping the vehicle does not invalidate the stop."

Moral Of The Story:  If your license is revoked, don't take a bad situation worse by drinking and getting behind the wheel!

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


Monday, August 8, 2016

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

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Stoneburner v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided August 8, 2016, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that the police do not have to prove that you were speeding in order to stop you for speeding.

In Stoneburner, Cold Spring-Richmond police officer Christi Hoffman, (who had more than twelve years of law-enforcement experience), was on patrol in the city of Richmond, Minnesota. Hoffman was traveling eastbound when she noticed a westbound car on Highway 23 that she estimated was traveling over the posted 50-mile-per-hour speed limit. Hoffman activated her squad car radar unit to confirm her visual observation. The target car was about one-half mile away at that point, which is within the radar-unit range. The radar unit showed speeds of 62, 61, and 60, at which point she locked the display, confirming her visual estimate of speed. Hoffman stopped the car, which was driven by appellant Robert David Stoneburner.

After noticing some indicia of intoxication, the officer had Mr. Stoneburner perform some field sobriety tests which, according to the officer, he failed.  Mr. Stoneburner was placed under arrest and subsequently submitted to a breath test which revealed an alcohol concentration level in excess of .08.

Mr. Stoneburner challenged the revocation of his driver's license challenging Hoffman's ability to make a visual estimate of speed and primarily claiming that the radar device had not been properly calibrated because Hoffman testified that she performed only a limited internal calibration test, and not an external calibration measurement.

The district court sustained Stoneburner's license revocation, concluding that Hoffman had a reasonable and articulable basis for stopping Stoneburner's car based on her visual observation of speed.  

On Appeal, Stoneburner argued that the radar evidence did not provide a particularized and objective basis for the stop because Hoffman did not comply with Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 10(a) (2014). This section states that "[i]n any prosecution in which the rate of speed of a motor vehicle is relevant" radar evidence is admissible if (1) the officer has been trained to operate the device; (2) the officer can describe how the device was set up and operated; (3) there was only minimal interference or distortion in the surrounding environment; and (4) the device was subject to testing by an external method that is accurate and reliable. Stoneburner argued that Hoffman did not testify about a reliable external testing mechanism and, therefore, she had no particularized and objective basis for the stop.

The Court of Appeals rejected Stoneburner's argument and affirmed the district court stating, "Minnesota courts have approved the use of visual speed estimation when the witness has an opportunity to observe the subject vehicle and has experience with estimating the speed of moving vehicles, particularly when the witness, like Hoffman, has years of law-enforcement experience and training." And, "...the issue here is not whether the state or the commissioner can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stoneburner was exceeding the speed limit prior to the stop; the issue is whether Hoffman had a "particularized and objective basis for suspecting" that Stoneburner was violating the law."

In this case, "Hoffman testified to specific facts that led her to conclude that Stoneburner was violating the law: she visually observed a car that appeared to be exceeding the speed limit; she had received training in estimating the speed of moving vehicles; and her radar unit, even if not properly calibrated, confirmed her visual observation. The district court found that Hoffman was a credible witness. Because these facts provided a basis for a brief investigatory stop, the district court did not err by determining that the stop was lawful."

Moral of The Story: If you even look guilty, the police can stop you!

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