Wednesday, February 19, 2020

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 Birkland v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided February 18, 2020, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that a motorist making a left-hand turn is not required to turn onto the left innermost lane of a multi-lane highway.

Mr. Birkland was arrested in Hennepin County for a DWI and he challenged the revocation of his license, arguing the arresting officer did not have a  sufficient reason to make the initial stop of his motor vehicle.  The officer testified at the license revocation hearing that she stopped her squad car behind Birkland’s vehicle in the southbound left-tum-only lane on the comer of Christmas Lake Road and Highway 7 in Shorewood. As the light changed, the officer observed Birkland’s vehicle turn left into the outermost lane of eastbound Highway 7, a four-lane roadway with two eastbound lanes of travel. The officer initiated a traffic stop, approached Birkland’s vehicle, and told Birkland that she stopped his vehicle because he turned into the far right lane of Highway 7.  

The district court affirmed the revocation of Birkland’s driving privileges, concluding that the officer possessed reasonable, articulable suspicion of a traffic violation to stop Birkland’s vehicle. The district court concluded that Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1(b), required Birkland to turn into the innermost lane. 

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the lower court noting that Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1(b) states:

"Approach for a left turn on other than one-way roadways shall be made in that portion of the right half of the roadway nearest the centerline thereof, and after entering the intersection the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection to the right of the centerline of the roadway being entered. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection."

"Birkland argues that the statute is unambiguous, and that a plain reading shows that the statute is silent on which lane the driver must enter after turning. We agree."

"The focus of the subparagraphs in section 169.19 is the location from where “[t]he driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection” shall depart, and to where the driver shall arrive after the turn. Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 1 (2018). The relevant portion of subparagraph (b), when identifying to where the driver must arrive, directs the driver “to leave the intersection to the right of the centerline of the roadway being entered.” Id., subd. 1(b) (emphasis added). This unambiguous provision is silent as to which lane to the right of the roadway a driver must enter. Appellate courts do not add terms or meaning to unambiguous statutes. State v. Expose, 872 N.W.2d 252, 259 (Minn. 2015)."

"The district court relied on the second sentence of subparagraph (b) in concluding Birkland violated this statute, which states, “Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection.” Id., subd. 1(b). The plain meaning of this sentence, however, does not address the question to where a driver must enter the roadway after turning, which is fully resolved by the first sentence. Instead, this sentence refers to the intersection from where a driver is turning. A left turn to either the innermost or outermost lane of the roadway to be traveled will be made “to the left of the center of the intersection.” Id."

The Court of Appeals further noted that " officer’s belief is not objectively reasonable if a plain reading of the statute does not criminalize the conduct or if the statute has been previously interpreted to resolve ambiguity."  

Moral Of The Story:  When making a left, turn into the lane that works best for you.  

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

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 Mayer v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided February 10, 2020, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that the police do not violate a DWI suspect's right to counsel by making non-coercive statements.

In Mayer, the Petitioner was arrested for a DWI in Olmsted County.  He was taken to jail where the Petitioner was read the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory and he elected to consult with an attorney prior to testing.

The officer provided Petitioner with a phone and phonebooks and helped him locate the number of a specific attorney, but the Petitioner was unable to reach that attorney. The officer recommended certain phonebooks with attorneys that would “answer 24 hours.” Mr. Mayer flipped through the books, but he did not make further attempts to contact an attorney. He asked the officer how much time he had, and the officer told him that he would give him time to make calls. The Petitioner told the officer that he had “three books” and it was not “fair” to the officer for him to continue searching for a lawyer.

The officer then stated, “From what I’ve seen about any attorney in that book, he’s probably going to give you the same advice.” Appellant asked, “What advice do you think that is going to be?” 

The officer clarified: "Again, this is not legal advice coming from me. I don’t think that I’ve ever had anybody contact an attorney and the attorney tell them to not take a breath test. The attorney usually tells them to take a breath test. Now what they say in their conversation . . . I’m not sure exactly. But, the majority of people, pretty much everybody who contacts an attorney ends up taking a breath test at the attorney’s advice.

The officer also gave Petitioner information about the levels of criminal offenses in Minnesota. He told the Petitioner that a first time DWI would be a misdemeanor so long as appellant blew under twice the legal limit, but test refusal would be a gross misdemeanor. Petitioner told the officer that he wanted to hear that information from an attorney, and the officer encouraged him to contact an attorney.

Mr. Mayer told the officer, “Based off of what you said, I should probably take the test.” The officer responded, “That’s what I see most people do, but... it’s your decision.” Mayer expressed concern about finding a phone number for a local attorney. The officer told him that, if he wanted to speak with an attorney, he should “forget about the area code” and just get in touch with any attorney. Appellant stated, “The way that you’re making it sound, it doesn’t seem beneficial.” Petitioner indicated that he wanted to test and stated, “They’re just going to tell me to take the test, most likely.” The officer responded, “Most likely, yes, but, again, I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know for sure.”

Though he did not speak with an attorney, Mr. Mayer chose to end his attorney time and submit to a breath test. Petitioner's attorney time lasted approximately 11 minutes. The breath test indicated an alcohol concentration above the legal limit, the state revoked Mayer's driver’s license. Mr. Mayer petitioned for an implied-consent hearing to challenge the license revocation.

The District Court upheld the revocation finding that the Petitioner voluntarily "chose to end his  phone time" and that  the information provided by the officer was not coercive or misleading.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling noting:

"Here, appellant does not challenge the district court’s findings that the officer provided him with a phone, phonebooks, and an opportunity to contact an attorney. Rather, he challenges the district court’s conclusion that he voluntarily ended his attorney time, arguing that he was coerced by the officer’s statements. We are not persuaded. There is no dispute that the officer expressed to appellant that, in his experience, attorneys advise their clients to take the test. This statement, however, must be considered in context of the officer’s other undisputed conduct and statements. For instance, the officer provided this opinion in response to appellant’s questions and statements. More importantly, the officer repeatedly qualified his statements to appellant by explaining that he was not an attorney and was not providing legal advice. At no time did the officer directly or expressly obstruct or impede appellant’s opportunity to contact and consult with an attorney. Instead, the officer repeatedly encouraged appellant to contact an attorney and made specific efforts to help appellant contact counsel, such as locating the phone number for his preferred attorney and suggesting that he call attorneys who are not in the surrounding area code in order to have a better chance of speaking with an attorney. The officer made no threats or promises to induce appellant to end his consultation time. On this record and under these circumstances, the district court did not err in concluding that appellant’s right to counsel was vindicated."

Moral Of The Story:  If at first you don't succeed (in reaching a lawyer) try, try again!!

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.