It is not easy to fight a DWI and win in Minnesota. That’s especially true if the driver provided a breath chemical sample. Because of Minnesota’s per se law, the conviction rate in these cases is usually over 80 percent. If the defendant provides a blood sample, the rate is even higher.
However, even in chemical test cases, the evidence is never as overwhelming as it seems. Certain pretrial tactics, like the ALS hearing, improve your odds even further. Moreover, DWI cases have lots of procedural issues. In fact, these procedural questions are often your best bet to fight a DWI and win, especially a holiday DWI.
Reasonable Suspicion for the Stop
Over July 4th and other holidays commonly associated with drinking and driving, like Labor Day and Memorial Day, most police departments are on high alert. Ironically, the tactics which officers use during these periods to convict more drivers often have the opposite result.
The holidays often involve Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs. In most STEP campaigns, supervisors redeploy officers to certain areas of town and instruct them to write as many DWI citations as possible. These kinds of police dragnets do not resonate well with jurors, especially as police officers have recently lost some of the prestige they once enjoyed.
STEP campaigns matter because, even though the Supreme Court has watered down the reasonable suspicion rule lately, it is still in place. This rule requires officers to have specific articulable facts which support a DWI stop. When they feel pressure to make arrests, officers sometimes pull over cars for very miniscule infractions. For example, an officer might pull over a driver for weaving inside a single lane, which is not illegal in Minnesota.
Probable Cause for the Arrest
After the officer pulls over the defendant and asks those four little words (“Have you been drinking?”), the officer must have probable cause to make an arrest. This standard is much higher than reasonable suspicion. The officer needs more evidence, and this evidence almost always comes from the Field Sobriety Tests.
There is very little scientific evidence that these tests are accurate. Even if the results are admissible, and that is a big “if,” the results are also highly questionable:
- Walk and Turn: In the “walking a straight line” test or “heel to toe walk” test, the defendant must walk a line heel to toe, turn around and walk back the same way. Test conditions are sometimes an issue. For example, it’s very, very difficult for anyone to walk an imaginary line in such a manner without veering at least a little.
- One Leg Stand: Much like the WAT, the OLS is a divided attention test which measures both physical and mental ability. Also like the WAT, Brainerd officers often testify that the defendant “failed” the test based on minor technicalities, like starting with the incorrect foot.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Much like the WAT, test conditions are normally an issue with the HGN test. It’s hard to follow a point of light with your eyes in the dark and while squad car overhead lights flash nearby. Furthermore, alcohol is not the leading cause of nystagmus.
If there is no probable cause, the judge will throw out the entire case. Prosecutors know this. So, if the evidence on this point is weak and they know the defendant has a good lawyer, they are often willing to make a good deal.
Reasonable Doubt for the Conviction
If the DWI prosecution makes it past the first two hurdles, the third one is even higher. Minnesota courts have no uniform definition for this phrase. However, it generally means that the prosecutor’s evidence must be so overwhelming that the defendant absolutely must be guilty and there is no possible defense.
In refusal cases, prosecutors must use the FSTs to establish this level of guilt. That’s not easy to do. They are only designed to establish reasonable suspicion, and they do not do that very well.
Chemical tests are not perfect either. For example, most Breathalyzers read acetone as ethanol. Many people, including diabetics and smokers, have high acetone levels in their bloodstreams. As for blood tests, a Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney has the right to examine the sample and order another test. Such exams often yield different results from the one that a police crime lab produced.
Despite what some lawyers think, it is possible to fight and win a DUI. For a free consultation with an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Minnesota, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Minnesota jurisdictions.