Monday, March 25, 2019

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 Junker v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided March 25, 2019, Minnesota Court Of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that a person who burps during the observation period is not entitled to have the data master test result thrown out unless they can prove the test results were affected by the burp.

In Junker, the Petitioner was arrested for a DWI and tested at a .09 % BAC on the data master machine.  Petitioner challenged his license revocation arguing that he burped during the observation period and, therefore, the test result was unreliable.  The district court sustained the revocation of the license and on appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, stating:

"...the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and officer training require that a driver be observed for at least 15 minutes before a breath test is administered. The purpose of the observation period is to ensure that mouth alcohol does not contaminate a driver’s breath samples. For breath-test results to be admitted into evidence, the commissioner has the burden of establishing that the test is reliable and that the administration of the test conformed to the procedure necessary to ensure its reliability. State v. Dille, 258 N.W.2d 565, 567 (Minn. 1977). To meet this burden, a breathalyzer test must be “conducted by a certified operator,” and the commissioner must establish “that the machine was in proper working order and the chemicals in proper condition.” Bielejeski v. Comm ’r of Pub. Safety, 351 N.W.2d 664, 666 (Minn. App. 1984). After the breath-test results are admitted, the burden shifts to the driver to challenge the credibility of the results."

"...the district court found that Junker burped during the observation period. But even though Junker proved that he burped during the observation period, he failed to demonstrate that the burping actually affected his breath- test results. See Hounsell, 401 N.W.2d at 96 (stating that to meet burden, driver must sufficiently demonstrate that his test results were affected by the burping)."

"...the caselaw is clear: “Even if a driver can prove that he had something in his mouth, he must also demonstrate that the substance actually affected his results.” Id. Additionally, the commissioner offered substantial evidence that DataMaster has built-in safeguards that provide an invalid result if the system detects mouth alcohol. The Trooper Anderson testified that Junker’s test results passed the machine’s internal test, and Junker did not refute this evidence."

Moral Of The Story:  When you burp, it is not enough to say "excuse me".

Monday, March 18, 2019

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. Stark (Decided March 18, 2019, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that an officer's observations of DWI impairment are direct and not circumstantial evidence.  

In Stark, a police officer was following a vehicle when he observed it rapidly accelerate and pass another vehicle without signaling. The officer estimated that the vehicle was traveling between 75 and 80 miles per hour on a gravel road.   The officer gave chase and observed numerous traffic violations during his pursuit, including failure to signal turns and a lane change, failure to stop at stop signs, and speeding. The officer turned on his emergency lights in order to initiate a traffic stop. The driver of the vehicle did not stop, but instead continued to speed, drive erratically, and take turns at dangerous speeds. The officer testified that he felt that, based on his observations of the vehicle and the manner in which the driver would approach intersections and turns, the driver’s depth perception was off.

After an eight-mile chase, the vehicle stopped at an intersection. The officer announced to the driver that he was under arrest and ordered him to put his hands out of the window. The driver put his hands out of the window, with his middle fingers extended, and repeatedly swore at the officer, stating that he would not listen. This behavior continued for around eight minutes before a police dog was brought to the driver’s side of the vehicle, and, although the driver refused to open his door, eventually several officers were able to remove the driver and place him under arrest for fleeing a police officer. The driver was then identified by his ID as appellant. Despite being handcuffed, Defendant remained defiant to commands. At this time, the officer suspected Defendant was impaired due to the officer’s observation of his erratic driving.

At the jail, the officer spoke to Defendant and observed that his eyes were bloodshot and watery and that his pupils were dilated. Based on the officer’s drug-recognition-expert training, he knew these to be indications of impairment either by alcohol or controlled substances. Based on the officer’s training, the next step in his investigation of possible impairment was to subject appellant to standardized field sobriety assessments. When the officer attempted to conduct the first test, which involved shining a light in appellant’s eyes and having him follow movement, Defendant informed the officer that he would not comply with any testing. The officer read Defendant the implied-consent advisory and requested a breath test. Defendant refused. The officer asked again if Defendant would submit to a breath test, but he again refused.

Defendant was charged with first-degree DWI—test refusal, three counts of DWI— impaired driving, fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle, and driving after cancellation.  The District Court dismissed the three DWI counts but not the fleeing or test refusal count.  The Defendant was convicted after a jury trial and argued on appeal that the evidence was insufficient as to the test refusal charge.

The Defendant urged the Court of Appeals to find the state’s evidence of probable cause of impairment, which consisted of squad and booking-room video evidence and testimony from the arresting officer regarding his direct observations, was circumstantial.  Defendant, therefore, argued the appellate court should apply the two-step analysis for evaluating the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence.

The Court of Appeals rejected the Defendant's argument noting that:
 "...State v. Andersen, 784 N.W.2d 320, 329 (Minn. 2010) (“[W]hen reviewing the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence, our first task is to identify the circumstances proved. . . . Our second step is to examine independently the reasonableness of all inferences that might be drawn from the circumstances proved; this includes inferences consistent with a hypothesis other than guilt.” 

"Circumstantial evidence is “evidence from which the factfinder can infer whether the facts in dispute existed or did not exist.” State v. Harris, 895 N.W.2d 592, 599 (Minn. 2017) (quotation omitted). Direct evidence is “evidence that is based on personal knowledge or observation and that, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption.” Id. (quotation omitted). Circumstantial evidence always requires an inferential step that is not required with direct evidence. Id."

"Probable cause of appellant’s impairment was proved with direct, and not circumstantial, evidence. The officer’s direct observations of appellant were sufficient to support probable cause of impairment by alcohol, drugs, or both."

Moral Of The Story: You can run but you cannot hide!

If you or a loved one have been charged with 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 and DUI questions.

Monday, March 4, 2019

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. Lane (Decided March 4, 2019, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that if you are told by the district court that it rejects the plea deal and affords you the opportunity to withdraw said plea, you can't complain about the subsequent sentence if you continue with the guilty plea.  Well, duh.  Sometimes I don't understand why people bother to appeal.

In Lane, the Defendant was charged with First Degree DWI and First Degree DWI Refusal.  Ms. Lane reached an agreement with the prosecutor wherein she agreed to plead guilty to felony refusal in exchange for bottom-of-the-box sentence.

The pre-plea sentencing worksheet indicated the Defendant had a criminal history score of six.  According the the sentencing guidelines, the Defendant was looking at a maximum penalty of 84 months, with a bottom-of-the-box score of 62 months. The Defendant pled guilty and the district court explained it would reserve acceptance of the plea until sentencing.

A pre-sentence investigation report was completed and it was learned the Defendant's criminal history score was four instead of six.  This gave the Defendant a lower bottom-of-the-box score of 51 months.

The district court rejected the previously deferred plea agreement. It informed the Defendant that, if she chose to maintain her plea of guilty and proceed to sentencing, the district court’s intention was to impose a top-of-the-box prison term of 72 months based on a criminal history score of four. The district court explained that it would allow the Defendant to either withdraw her guilty plea or proceed with sentencing. Defendant conferred with her attorney and then informed the district court that she wanted to maintain her plea of guilty and proceed with sentencing for the felony test-refusal offense. The district court sentenced Defendant to 72 months in prison, with 84-days credit for time served and a five-year conditional release period.

On appeal, Ms. Lane argued the court abused its discretion by rejecting the plea agreement.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting:

"When a plea is entered and the defendant questioned, the trial court judge must reject or accept the plea of guilty on the terms of the plea agreement.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.04, subd. 3(1). The district court may postpone its acceptance or rejection until it has received the results of a presentence investigation (PSI). Id. “If the court rejects the plea agreement, it must advise the parties in open court and then call upon the defendant to either affirm or withdraw the plea.” Id. see also Tyska, 448 N.W.2d at 549 (further explaining Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.04, subd. 3(1)).

"Appellant argues that the district court’s rejection of her plea was arbitrary, and that she is entitled to receive the agreed-upon bottom-of-the-box sentence. But because the district court expressly withheld acceptance or rejection of this plea until sentencing, and provided appellant with the opportunity to withdraw or affirm her guilty plea after it declined to accept the agreement, the district court acted within its discretion."

Moral Of The Story:  There ain't no deal until the court says there's a deal!

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 Minnesota DWI Lawyer, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.