Monday, January 7, 2019

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

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Fernandez, (Decided January 7, 2019, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that it does not take much to allow the police to expand a traffic stop to investigate intoxication for a DWI arrest.

In Fernandez, Officer William Hullopeter stopped a vehicle when he discovered that the registered owner, a 48-year-old woman, had a cancelled driver’s license. As he exited his squad car and approached the vehicle, Officer Hullopeter observed that the driver, who was not a female, had bloodshot, watery eyes, and that his breath had a “strong minty odor” emanating from the gum he was chewing. Officer Hullopeter also observed “beer cans directly behind the driver’s seat,” and that the driver was wearing two paper wristbands that are the type commonly issued at events where alcohol is served. Officer Hullopeter identified the driver as appellant Christian Fernandez and asked him to perform several field sobriety tests, the results of which indicated impairment. The officer arrested Fernandez, transported him to the Blue Earth County Jail, and read him the Implied Consent Advisory. Fernandez agreed to provide a breath test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of 0.10.

Fernandez moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the stop, arguing that the stop was unlawfully expanded because Officer Hullopeter should not have further approached the driver as soon as he shined his spotlight into the vehicle and determined that the driver was not a female and therefore was not the registered owner of the vehicle with the canceled driver’s license. 

The district court found that “the officer’s suspicions about the identity of the driver were not dispelled until he exited the squad vehicle and approached [Fernandez’s] vehicle.” The court also found that when Officer Hullopeter “approached the vehicle and spoke with [Fernandez], he immediately” observed signs that Fernandez had been drinking, and that “these new observations were made at the same time that Hullopeter determined that the driver was not the registered owner.” 

The district court's findings of fact meant that the Defendant had no hope for winning on appeal. Or, as noted by the Appellate Court:

"Fernandez acknowledges that under Pike, the initial stop of the vehicle was valid because the vehicle was registered to an owner with an expired driver’s license. But Fernandez argues that because “Officer Hullopeter’s reasonable suspicion of criminal activity was based entirely upon his assumption that the registered owner... was the person driving the vehicle,” the reasonable suspicion justifying the stop was dispelled as soon as the officer “shined his squad spotlight on the car” and recognized that Fernandez was not a middle-aged woman. Fernandez argues that because Officer Hullopeter observed that the driver of the vehicle was not a middle-aged woman, his detention of Fernandez for the purpose of asking to see his driver’s license was unconstitutional."
"Officer Hullopeter’s suspicions that criminal activity was afoot were not dispelled until he “was in close proximity to the vehicle,” close enough to observe that the registered owner of the vehicle was not the driver, but also close enough to “immediately” observe that the driver had “bloodshot, watery eyes,” and “‘minty’ breath.” (Emphasis added.). Officer Hullopeter also observed “alcoholic beverage containers in plain view in the vehicle,” and that Fernandez was wearing wristbands of the type worn by “younger people at events or locations where alcohol is served.” These new observations occurred prior to Officer Hullopeter asking for Fernandez’s driver’s license and provided him with reasonable suspicion that Fernandez was driving under the influence of alcohok See State v. Klamar, 823 N.W.2d 687, 696 (Minn. App. 2012) (concluding that an officer’s observation of the odor of alcohol and bloodshot and watery eyes justified the expansion of a traffic stop to investigate a suspicion of impaired driving)."

Moral Of The Story:  If you have been drinking do not drive someone else's car as they may not be as responsible as you.

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.

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