Monday, March 29, 2021

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 Soucie v. Commissioner of Public Safety and State of Minnesota (Decided March 29, 2021, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published), which stands for the proposition that "touching" a fog or lane line provides the police with a legitimate reason to stop a motor vehicle.

In August 2019, a Minnesota State Trooper stopped Mr. Soucie's vehicle and subsequently arrested him for DWI. Mr. Soucie filed a challenge to the legality of the stop.  

At the combined Omnibus and Implied Consent hearing the trooper testified that she saw "the right. . . side of Soucie’s vehicle move completely over the fog line” and “occasionally touch the fog line." The video recording depicted Soucie’s passenger-side tires cross the fog line entirely at the end of the entrance ramp as the car merged onto the highway, corroborating the trooper’s testimony. But the transcript of the hearing and the order that followed demonstrated that the district court did not discuss that movement across the fog line. The district court instead focused on the moment the car’s tires later merely touched the fog line.

The District Court denied the Defendant's motion to suppress and sustained the license revocation. The issue on appeal was whether "touching" a highway line provides a sufficient justification to authorize a stop of a motor vehicle. 

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the lower court noting:

The trooper "...stopped Soucie’s car because she believed he had violated a statute requiring drivers to operate only within their own lane. That statute mandates that 'a vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.' Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. (1). We clarify that we are not deciding this appeal based on the trooper’s observation of Soucie’s passenger-side tires passing entirely over and beyond the fog line. Although the video recording corroborates the trooper’s testimony (as acknowledged by both attorneys during oral argument on appeal), the district court apparently did not notice this on its viewing. The state raised no related appeal challenging the district court’s factual omission as clear error, and neither party has briefed the question of whether an appellate court may hold a stop constitutional based on a violation that is unquestionably visible on a recording but that was apparently inadvertently missed by the district court. We therefore decide this appeal based on the factual findings of the district court, including specifically the finding that Soucie’s car (meaning his tires) touched the fog line. By 'touched,' it is clear from the district court’s description and our view of the recording that, only the outside edge of Soucie’s tires momentarily contacted the inside edge of the fog line."

"Soucie argues in essence that this touching is too insignificant to meet the statutory prohibition. We need only look to how we have construed the clear prohibition of section 169.18, subdivision 7(1), to reject this argument. In Kruse v. Commissioner of Public Safety, we held that driving with one’s outside tire completely on top of the fog line violates the statute. 906N.W.2d 554, 556 (Minn. App. 2018). The officer there had seen Kruse’s tire “move right and onto . . . but not over the fog line,” and we determined that this conduct violated the statute, justifying the traffic stop. Id. at 556, 560. The Kruse decision inspires inferences that we apply here."


"First, we infer that, under the statute, a lane is comprised of the area between the painted lines that demark it and does not include the lines themselves. To borrow from sports, a lane is like the area of play in basketball (where a player stepping on the boundary line is out of bounds) and unlike the area of play in tennis (where a ball landing on the boundary line is in bounds). Second, the statutory violation of moving a vehicle from the lane occurs when even a fraction of the vehicle extends outside its lane. The idea that one violates the statute by unsafely moving even part of one’s car from the lane arises not only from our holding in Kruse but also from a common-sense understanding of the danger the statute intends to avoid. It is self-evident that the statute aims to curb collisions with persons, obstacles, or vehicles outside of one’s lane, and dangerous collisions can occur when even a small portion of a car extends out of bounds. See Kruse, 906 N.W.2d at 559 (“Moreover, driving on the fog line could compromise the safety of any stopped motorist, pedestrian, or cyclist on the right side of the fog line.”); State v. Al-Naseer, 734N.W.2d 679, 681 (Minn. 2007) (“[A] car driven by Al-Naseer struck and killed a person who was changing a tire along the side of Highway 10.”). We can readily apply these premises to the facts here."


"Because operating a car with its tires touching the edge of the fog line constitutes moving a vehicle from the lane under Minnesota Statutes section 169.18, subdivision 7(1), the district court correctly concluded that [the] Trooper had reasonable suspicion to stop Soucie’s car for a traffic violation.

Moral Of The Story: If you are going to drive, stay in bounds.

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.

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