Monday, December 17, 2018

Minneapolis DWI Attorney F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Sawyer v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided December 17, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished), which stands for the proposition that "speeding" is sufficient violation of the traffic laws to justify a stop by the police.  Well, duh.  Sometimes, I wonder why people even bother to appeal such stupid questions.  Oh well...

In Sawyer, a state trooper arrested appellant Kurt William Sawyer for driving while impaired. Appellant later failed a breath test for alcohol, and his driver’s license was revoked. He challenged the license revocation, asserting that there was no basis for “the initial stop or intrusion,” and therefore he was impermissibly seized.  

The trooper testified that she was stopped at the intersection of two highways, 87 and 371, and noticed a pickup leave an establishment that sells alcohol. The pickup turned west on 87. The trooper made a U-turn and followed the pickup. The speed limit on that road goes from 40 to 30 miles per hour heading into the City of Backus. The trooper testified that the pickup was initially driving within the speed limit, but it did not slow down when it hit the 30 mile-per-hour zone; rather, according to the trooper’s radar the pickup increased its speed to 43 miles per hour. The trooper pursued the pickup. The pickup quickly turned south onto a side street, and the trooper followed. The trooper believed that the pickup was speeding up and attempting to evade. When the trooper hit gravel on the side street, she activated her lights. She followed the vehicle up a driveway and saw it pull into a garage. Appellant got out of the pickup, the trooper and appellant made eye contact, and the garage door closed. The trooper opened a service door to the garage, flipped a light switch, and yelled for appellant to come out. She then walked away from the garage and called for backup. Appellant walked out of the garage and ignored the trooper as if she was not there. The trooper ordered appellant to come to the squad car, and appellant then complied.

The district court filed an order sustaining the revocation of appellant’s driving privileges. The court concluded that there was a valid basis for the stop because the trooper observed appellant going 43 in a 30 mile-per-hour zone and seized appellant for that reason.  

On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court, noting:

"Here, the district court found that the trooper observed appellant speeding and temporarily seized appellant for that reason. The record supports these findings. The trooper had a reasonable, articulable basis to temporarily seize appellant. “Generally, if an officer observes a violation of a traffic law, no matter how insignificant the traffic law, that observation forms the requisite particularized and objective basis for conducting a traffic stop.” Wilkes v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 111 N.W.2d 239, 243 (Minn. App. 2010) (quotation omitted)."

Moral Of The Story:  Slow down and smell the roses!

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

Minneapolis DWI Lawyer F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Poehler (Decided December 10, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that a mere crack in a windshield is not sufficient to justify a stop of a motor vehicle.

In Pohler, a Cambridge police officer saw a car being driven with a cracked windshield.  The officer stopped the car and spoke with the driver, James Poehler.  Mr. Pohler was slurring his words and a preliminary breath test indicated a breath alcohol level of .174%.  Mr. Pohler was charged with a DWI.

The defense moved to suppress all of the evidence contending that the officer stopped him without reasonable suspicion.  The district court denied the motion and on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court, stating:

"Poehler’s argument requires us to answer whether an officer’s seeing any windshield crack—regardless of its extent—constitutes a reasonable basis for the officer to suspect that the driver is violating the obstructed-vision statute, Minnesota Statutes, section 169.71, subdivision 1(a)(1) (2018). That statute prohibits a person from driving a “motor vehicle with ... a windshield cracked or discolored to an extent to limit or obstruct proper vision.” The question of whether a stop can rest on the appearance of a crack alone, regardless of the extent of the crack, is one of first impression. Other cases have involved stops resting on an extensively cracked windshield or on cracks of undescribed extent where the validity of the stop was not challenged or decided on appeal. For example, in State v. Varnado, the supreme court considered the appeal of a defendant whom officers stopped after they “observed a car with a shattered windshield,” 582 N.W.2d 886, 888 (Minn. 1998), but “that stop [was] not being contested.” Id. at 893 (Gilbert, J., dissenting). This court later considered a stop involving a police officer who had “pulled the pickup over, believing that he saw a windshield severely cracked and, thus, obstructing the driver’s view,” and there we held that “the stop itself was proper.” State v. Miller, 659 N. W.2d 275, 277-78 (Minn. App. 2003); see also State v. Tomaino, 627 N.W.2d 338, 340 (Minn. App. 2001) (“The parties agree that the cracked windshield provided a legal basis for the investigatory stop.”). This is the first case where we are asked whether every windshield crack of any extent justifies a police stop under the obstracted-vision statute. Our answer is no."

"The statute’s qualifier, “to an extent to,” informs us that not every cracked windshield constitutes a violation. A person violates the statute only by driving with a windshield crack that, because of its characteristics, such as its location and its size, severity, or shape, limits or obstructs the driver’s vision."

"The district court justified the stop on an unsupported ground"

Moral Of The Story:  Sometimes a stop is not all it is cracked up to be!

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

Monday, December 3, 2018

Minnesota DWI Lawyer F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Shepard (Decided December 3, 2018, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that turning on the emergency lights of a squad car does not automatically constitute a seizure.  I don't think this is a very well-reasoned case.  

In Shepard, Deputy McKane received a report that a vehicle had crashed into the ditch of U.S. Highway 69 in a rural part of Freeborn County approximately two miles south of Albert Lea. In addition, Deputy McKane learned from the dispatcher that a man wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants was walking along the highway near the crashed vehicle.

Deputy McKane first inspected the vehicle in the ditch, which was unoccupied. Deputy McKane believed that the vehicle had been traveling in the southbound lane before it veered across the northbound lane and entered the ditch on the east side of the highway. Deputy McKane saw damage to the front of the vehicle and a “spider-webbed crack” in the vehicle’s windshield.

Deputy McKane then drove south and, after approximately two miles, saw a man wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants walking on the shoulder of the highway in a southerly direction. Deputy McKane turned on his squad car’s overhead emergency lights, pulled up behind the man, stopped his squad car on the shoulder, and exited the squad car. Deputy McKane approached the man, later identified as Shepherd, and had a brief conversation with him. Deputy McKane first asked Shepherd whether he had crashed the vehicle that was in the ditch; Shepherd responded that he had. Deputy McKane then asked Shepherd why he had crashed. Shepherd said that he had consumed “a couple drinks” a few hours earlier. Deputy McKane could smell alcohol on Shepherd’s breath and saw that he had bloodshot and watery eyes. Deputy McKane also observed that Shepherd was confused about where he was going because he pointed south when saying that he was walking to Albert Lea when, in fact, he should have pointed north. Deputy McKane administered field sobriety tests, which Shepherd failed, and administered a preliminary breath test, which indicated that Shepherd was intoxicated.

The Defendant was subsequently charged with DWI and he moved to suppress all of the evidence on the basis that the officer did not have a sufficient reason to justify his seizure by the side of the road.  The Defendant argued that the when the officer activated his squad emergency lights, he was seized by the police without sufficient cause.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals however ruled that no seizure occurred which, frankly, does not make much sense.  The Court of Appeals correctly noted that:

"Although a law-enforcement officer may seize a person based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, “[n]ot all encounters between the police and citizens constitute seizures.” State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999). An officer does not conduct a seizure merely because the officer approaches a person in a public place and asks the person a few questions. In re Welfare ofE.D.J., 502 N.W.2d 779, 781-82 (Minn. 1993); State v. Houston, 654 N.W.2d 727, 731-32 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Mar. 26, 2003). Rather, under Minnesota law, a person is seized only if, given the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in that situation would not feel free to terminate the encounter."

The Court of Appeals then states, "At oral argument, Shepherd emphasized Deputy McKane’s use of his squad car’s overhead emergency lights. That fact does not make the encounter a seizure."  

Nonsense.  When the police turn on their emergency lights or "take-down" lights the purpose is to make the person stop and interact with the officers.  No reasonable person would feel that they are "free to terminate the encounter" and the Court's ruling to the contrary is just lame.

Moral of the Story:  When the lights come on, ask the officer if you are free to leave.  

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