Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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DWI Case Of The Week is LaClair v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided October 27, 2020, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished), which stands for the proposition that the police cannot enter the curtilage of a home in the early morning hours based upon a whim or idle curiosity.

In LaClair, a Lino Lakes police officer noticed a car, with its lights on, sitting in the driveway of a residence.  When the officer drove by the residence an hour later, the vehicle lights were still illuminated.  

The officer got out of his squad and walked up the driveway to the vehicle.  The officer walked up to the passenger side of the vehicle and noticed Mr. LaClair passed out in the driver's seat.

The officer walked over the the driver's side and opened the door without knocking.  Mr. LaClair woke up and admitted to drinking and driving.  LaClair was subsequently placed under arrest and his license was revoked.  

Mr. LaClair challenged the license revocation but the district court upheld the loss of his license.  On appeal, however, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court noting:

"Police must have a warrant to enter a constitutionally protected area, subject to limited exceptions. U.S. Const, amend. IV; Minn. Const, art. I, § 10; Haase v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 679 N.W.2d 743, 746 (Minn. App. 2004). “If police enter a constitutionally protected area without a warrant, that entry is presumed to be unreasonable, and evidence obtained as a result must be suppressed” if no exception applies. Haase, 679 N.W.2d at 747."

"These protections extend to the “curtilage,” or the area adjacent to a home. Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6, 133 S. Ct. 1409, 1414 (2013). The path to the front door, however, invites visitors to approach and knock, and an officer may use this implied license just as any other citizen. Id. at 7, 133 S. Ct. at 1415. The relevant question is whether an officer’s behavior falls within the scope of the implied license that extends to any member of the public. See id. (“Complying with the terms of that traditional invitation does not require fine-grained legal knowledge; it is generally managed without incident by the Nation’s Girl Scouts and trick-or-treaters.”). The scope of an implied license is limited in time and purpose as determined by social norms. See State v. Chute, 908 N.W.2d 578, 586-88 (Minn. 2018) (concluding that officer violated social norms by taking a circuitous route and by lingering too long). 


"A late-night approach does not fall within the purview of an implied license absent an emergency or some evidence that the homeowner accepts visitors during those hours. United States v. Lundin, 817 F.3d 1151, 1159-60 (9th Cir. 2016); People v. Frederick, 895 N.W.2d 541, 546-47 (Mich. 2017) (discussing Jardines, 569 U.S. at 8, 133 S. Ct. at 1415); see also United States v. Quintero, 648 F.3d 660, 667 (8th Cir. 2011) (concluding that the time of day is a relevant circumstance when analyzing whether a consent to search is voluntary)."

"The record shows, and the commissioner concedes, that there was no sign of emergency when Officer Cree entered LaClair’s driveway or approached the residence. LaClair was not visible in his vehicle. Officer Cree did not testify that anyone else was present. He did not observe any indication of imminent danger to anyone. There is no evidence that the lights in the home were illuminated or of any other sign that the occupants of the home would welcome visitors during sleeping hours. And the circumstances observed by Officer Cree before his entry onto the property did not give rise to any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Instead, Officer Cree testified that he entered the property only to alert the homeowner of the potential for a dead car battery, which the commissioner concedes is a non-emergency. These are not the circumstances where an ordinary citizen would approach a home in the middle of the night. Accordingly, Officer Cree entered a constitutionally protected area without a warrant or an implied license, and evidence obtained thereafter must be suppressed."

Moral Of The Story:  Don't entice the police with shiny objects.

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