The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
A Brainerd, MN DWI Lawyer Looks at Some Possible Defenses
June 19, 2020
Alcohol-involved wrecks usually have both civil and criminal consequences for Minnesota drivers. In civil court, victims must only establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence. That’s the lowest standard of proof in Minnesota. But in criminal court, prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest standard of proof in Minnesota.
Essentially, the state’s evidence must be so overwhelming that it not only overcomes the presumption of innocence. The proof must also firmly convince jurors that the defendant is guilty. Maybe or probably guilty is not good enough.
Because the burden of proof is so high, a Brainerd, MN DWI lawyer has several options in terms of a successful defense. The result of this approach could be a complete dismissal of charges, a not-guilty verdict at trial, or a plea to a lesser included offense.
Most DWI arrests begin with traffic stops. Typically, officers can pull over motorists based on little more than a hunch. In a 2015 Iowa case, a federal judge ruled that officers could pull over a motorist for traveling 1mph over the speed limit, even though the speeding stop was just a pretext and the officers knew the charges would not hold up in court.
Sometimes, however, even this tiny bit of proof is unavailable in a DWI case. Informer tips are a good example. Frequently, these tips are so vague (blue sedan eastbound on Highway 210) that they have no value in court whatsoever.
If the stop was illegal, then the arrest was illegal as well, under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. It does not matter if the driver was passed-out drunk behind the wheel.
Minnesota law enforcement officers also periodically set up DWI checkpoints. These roadblocks often appear around the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, and other holidays associated with drinking and driving.
Officers do not need evidence of wrongdoing to pull over motorists at checkpoints. However, these roadblocks must meet rigid requirements. If they fall short, a Brainerd, MN DWI lawyer can invalidate the checkpoint and therefore invalidate the arrest.
Brainerd, MN DWI Lawyers and Intoxication Defenses
After they are pulled over, about 80 percent of defendants provide a chemical breath or blood sample. If the sample shows the defendant’s BAC was above the legal limit, the defendant is guilty as a matter of law.
Chemical tests are not always accurate. For example, if a defendant burped, vomited, or belched in the fifteen minutes prior to a Breathalyzer test, alcohol particles from the stomach gush into the mouth. As a result, the Brethalyzer’s BAC estimate might be artificially high.
Furthermore, chemical tests are not always admissible. If the Breathalyzer had not been calibrated properly or recently, any results might be legally inadmissible.
In the remaining 20 percent of DWI cases, prosecutors must use circumstantial evidence to prove intoxication. Such evidence usually comes from the four approved field sobriety tests, which are:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The DWI eye test determines if the defendant has nystagmus, a condition also known as lazy eye. Intoxication is only one cause of nystagmus, and it is not even the leading cause.
Portable Breathalyzer: Some of the Breathalyzer’s flaws were discussed above. Portable Breathalyzers are even more inaccurate than the larger ones used at police stations.
One-Leg Stand: People with any mobility impairment at all usually cannot stand on one leg for more than a few seconds, whether they are drunk or sober.
Walk and Turn: Environmental factors often affect these test results. For example, it is much more difficult to walk an imaginary line heel-to-toe than it is to walk an actual line, like a parking lot stripe, in this fashion.
Some officers administer additional unapproved tests, like Romberg’s balance test (head back, eyes closed, and arms extended test). These results are usually only admissible for limited purposes.
Frequently, the “intoxication” element is the only real issue in a DWI case. But in many situations, a Brainerd, MN DWI lawyer can challenge the “driving” element as well.
According to the Minnesota DWI law, “driving” is more like “operating.” The vehicle need not be moving. If the defendant is behind the wheel and the vehicle is drivable, DWI charges will probably hold up in court, at least with regard to “driving.” Sometimes, however, the defendant does not have the keys, the car is out of gas, or there are other extenuating circumstances.
DWI collisions are another example. Generally, by the time emergency responders arrive, the defendant has left the vehicle. Unless a witness places the defendant behind the wheel at or near the time of the crash, there may be insufficient evidence on this point.
Other non-intoxication defenses include the public/private place issue. Driving while intoxicated is only illegal if the defendant was in a public place. Shopping center, apartment complex, and some housing development parking lots are not public places, even if they are open to the public. A private driveway is not a public place either. The street directly in front of a private residence is in a grey area.
Connect with a Dedicated Attorney
There is a big difference between a DWI arrest and a DWI conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN DWI lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. The sooner you call us, the sooner we start fighting for you.