Monthly Archives: October 2009

Minnesota Court Waters Down Legal Definition of Illegal Drugs: Toilet Water Now Criminal to Possess

Water Bong

Water Bong

The Minnesota Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, has now ruled that Bong Water (water which had been used in a water pipe) was a “mixture” of “25 grams or more” supporting a criminal conviction for Controlled Substance crime in the first degree.  The crime is the most serious felony drug crime in Minnesota, with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for a first offense.  The case is Minnesota v  Peck, A08-579, Minnesota Supreme Court, October 22, 2009.

The majority opinion takes a literal view, arguing in essence that any amount of a substance dissolved in water makes that water a “mixture” containing that substance.  Perhaps.  But, since Minnesota’s criminal prohibition laws are organized to make greater quantities of drug possession a more serious crime than smaller quantities, such a simple-minded view defeats the purpose of the quantity-based severity levels. If a person possessed one-tenth of a gram of methamphetamine, they could be charged with a Controlled Substance Fifth Degree crime, with a five-year maximum.  But – dissolve the one-tenth of a gram in 26 grams of water, on purpose or by accident, and now under this new decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court, that can be prosecuted as Controlled Substance First Degree – with a 30-year prison term.  Just add water for five times the sentence!  In the case of marijuana, a non-criminal amount under 42.5 grams smoked through a bong could give the police and government lawyers the legal right to charge a felony drug crime with possible prison time – not for the marijuana, but for the bong water. This defeats the legislative purpose of treating larger quantities of drugs more harshly.  Worse – it makes no sense.  It is irrational.  It leads to an absurd result.

What is a bong?  It is a water pipe.  A water pipe, such as a bong, can be used to smoke tobacco, marijuana, methamphetamine (as in the Peck case), or anything that can be smoked.  Smokers view the water which has been used to filter and cool the smoke as something disgusting, not unlike a used cigarette filter, to be discarded – sooner or later.  The used water is not commonly used for any other purpose.  Apparently a naive or misguided police officer testified otherwise in the Peck case, and – amazingly -the four in the majority of the court appears to have given that testimony credit.

In general courts have made efforts to prevent police and government lawyers from having the ability to manipulate the facts or evidence in such a way as to either create criminal liability for targeted people, or, to increase the penalty the target might suffer.  Here is an instance to the contrary.  If the government wants to charge a more serious drug crime – what to do?  Just add water!  (Water is heavy – heavier than drugs.  Drug crimes are based on weight.  Water is not currently defined by law as an illegal drug.) Frequent news reports remind us about the drugs in the rivers and most of our municipal water supplies (not concentrated enough to hurt us, we are reassured).  Type “in water supply” into your favorite internet search engine and you can read thousands of reports of scientific studies documenting this.  As a result, if you have water sourced from a river, like we do in Minneapolis, then you could now be charged with a Minnesota Controlled Substance First Degree Crime (toilets tanks hold way more than 25 grams of water with illegal drugs dissolved).  This can be a particularly troubling variation of the trace-drug criminal case, where only a trace of suspected illegal drugs is found.  Trace cases can be problematic, in part because there may not be enough of the suspected material to be tested twice for its chemical identity. The widespread scientific reports of cocaine contamination (in trace amounts) on most United States currency, would be another example of “trace evidence of illegal drugs possession.”  Under the Peck case, we can have a situation of a trace amount of illegal substance “mixed” with water, which is heavy.  Or – we could have a relatively small amount (by weight) of illegal contraband mixed with a large amount of (heavy) water.  Even if you believe some drugs possession should be a crime – should one gram mixed in water be treated the same as one kilogram (1,000 grams) in powder form?

What can be done about this particular absurd injustice?

  1. Ask the legislature to repeal the criminal prohibition laws.
  2. Remember this case at election time.  Vote!  You can vote for or against Minnesota Supreme Court candidates, including incumbents.
  3.  Jury Nullification, or the rule of jury lenity.  Jurors have legal rights to acquit, despite the facts, despite the judges instructions on the law.  Just do it!
  4. Remove all water sourced from rivers from your home and office, including toilets, in the meantime.

At least the dissenting opinion, by Justice Paul H. Anderson, joined by Justice Alan C. Page, and Justice Helen M. Meyer, exhibits common sense.  Here is what Justice Paul Anderson wrote in dissent of the majority opinion:

The majority’s decision to permit bong water to be used to support a first-degree felony controlled-substance charge runs counter to the legislative structure of our drug laws, does not make common sense, and borders on the absurd…the result is a decision that has the potential to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.

It’s a good read (link at the beginning of this article).  It is shocking that four in the majority could have possibly disagreed with the dissenters.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of the 100 year experiment in using criminal blame as a strategy to solve a public health problem.

It’s time to change the laws.  This absurdity makes it all too clear. Written by Thomas C Gallagher, Minneapolis Drug LawyerFFI:  Marijuana Laws in Minnesota

How to Know > Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Do I need a Minnesota Criminal Lawyer?
Do I need a Minnesota Criminal Lawyer?

Do You Need a Lawyer?

When it comes to criminal law, most people have been fortunate never to have ask themselves that question.  We do not expect the unexpected.  How do you know when, “I need a lawyer!”

Value of Keeping Your Public Criminal Records Clean

With no public criminal record, your potential future employers won’t be scared off by a criminal conviction.  You could be disqualified from certain occupational licenses  in the event you were convicted of a crime.   Certain convictions can also result in: loss of civil rights, such as voting and firearms rights; removal and deportation from the U.S.; denial of naturalization; loss of student financial aid; offender registration, and other negative consequences.

For many, the largest, quantifiable impact will be to future income stream.   How can a criminal conviction affect your future income?  If you assume a person is age 30 and will work until 70, that is 40 years. Multiply 40 years times a conservative $10,000 estimated reduction in annual income as the result of a conviction.  That would amount to $400,000.  At eight percent interest per year, that would be over one million dollars in lost income by age 70. I have had clients suffer a $45,000 per year reduction in income while an expungement proceeding was pending in court, so the real number could be in the millions, depending upon career path.

Is Jail or Prison Time Probable if Convicted? 

If you are charged with a serious criminal offense, there may be a threat of jail or even prison time.  Even for minor crimes, jail can be a real threat, when a person has prior convictions.  The maximum possible incarceration term specified in the criminal statute charged is rarely executed.  In felony cases, the Minnesota or Federal Sentencing Guidelines will provide a “presumptive sentence” after based upon the severity level of the offense of conviction and criminal history score.  Though there can be upward or downward departures from the presumptive sentence, it is useful to look at the presumptive sentence. There are also “mandatory minimum” sentencing statutes in Minnesota and United States Statutes which can be cruel, severe, and lengthier than the presumptive guidelines sentence.  It is vital to consult a criminal defense lawyer to discuss these factors. In non-felony, misdemeanor cases, up to one year in jail can be possible in Minnesota cases.

If It Is Important to You, Then It’s Worth Getting the Best Lawyer You Can to Help

For many reasons, it is valuable to prevent a criminal charge, to prevent a criminal conviction, and to prevent a criminal sentence in Minnesota.  The rule is simple.  If it is important, then it is important to have a good lawyer’s help in protecting it.  You and your family are worth a lot.  A good criminal lawyer can help protect your future, and your future income earning potential.  Protect your good name while you can – before it’s too late, before a guilty plea.  (Keep in mind that in order to qualify for a Minnesota expungement someday under Minnesota’s expungement statute, you’ll need to avoid being convicted and avoid a guilty pleayou must plan ahead in order to do so!)

This article was written by Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer  Thomas Gallagher.  Gallagher answers questions about Minnesota law court cases and issues every day, free, over the phone.  He also provides free half-hour office consultations by appointment.  You can give Gallagher a call with your question or to make an appointment at 612-333-1500.

The Midnight DWI Jail Call to a Minnesota Lawyer < Legal First Aid

phoneIn Minnesota, a person arrested on a police officer’s suspicion of DWI has the legal right to consult a lawyer prior to responding to a request by police to consent to chemical testing.  A problem often arises due to the fact that most of these situations happen in the late night or early morning hours when most people – and most lawyers – are asleep.  Most people who find themselves in this unwelcome circumstance never believed they would be, and may not know a criminal lawyer or DWI defense lawyer to call.

Sometimes they call any Minnesota lawyer they can think of, even though they might not be a criminal lawyer, or DWI defense attorney.  This article is intended to help that lawyer.

If possible, refer the caller to a DWI defense attorney to call.  If that does not work, they should call you back.  Here are some basics for the Minnesota lawyer who does not regularly practice DWI defense.

Understand that the purpose of the phone consultation is to help the caller navigate the legal threats presented by the most lengthy and complex set of criminal laws – the DWI laws in Minnesota Statutes Chapter 169A.  

Here is a list:

1.  “Was there a collision or accident?”  If no, go to the next question.  If yes, “do you know if anyone was injured?” and “where are you calling from?”  If there was an alcohol-related injury motor vehicle accident, then the caller may be at risk of a felony Criminal Vehicular Operation (or Criminal Vehicular Homicide) charge.  If that is the case, they may be better off refusing to consent to provide a sample for chemical testing.  There is currently in Minnesota, however, a statute defining such a refusal to consent to such a search – a crime, the crime of “Refusal to Submit to Chemical Testing.”  Though this statute seems unconstitutional, in that it makes a crime out of a refusal to consent to a warrantless search, so far the Minnesota Appellate Courts have upheld it.  As a result, the lawyer should exercise caution, and avoid directly advising the caller in such a situation (likely felony CVO) to “refuse” to consent.  Rather, a Minnesota lawyer can safely advise the caller that “Since refusal is a crime, I can’t advise you to refuse.  A lawyer is prohibited from advising a person to commit a crime.  However a lawyer also has a duty of loyalty to the client, and to explain the legal consequences of your actions.  If you submit a sample for chemical testing that may make it easier for the state to convict you of a felony crime.  If you do not consent to giving a sample that may make it more difficult for them to do so, but could also be used to charge with a gross misdmeanor crime of ‘Refusal.’  The question “where are you now,” is intended to discover whether they are at a police station or a hospital.

2.  “If you consent to the search and provide a sample of breath, blood or urine, be sure to tell the police officer that you want to use the phone to arrange an additional test.”  In Minnesota, a person who consents to a body search by submitting a sample for chemical testing  after a DWI arrest, has the legal right to an “additional test.”  This should always be done, whenever the breath machine report is 0.08 or more, or when a blood ir urine sample is collected by or for police.

Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.51, subd. 7 (b):  The person tested has the right to have someone of the person’s own choosing administer a chemical test or tests in addition to any administered at the direction of a peace officer; provided, that the additional test sample on behalf of the person is obtained at the place where the person is in custody, after the test administered at the direction of a peace officer, and at no expense to the state. The failure or inability to obtain an additional test or tests by a person does not preclude the admission in evidence of the test taken at the direction of a peace officer unless the additional test was prevented or denied by the peace officer.

Though this right is statutory, it is also a way to protect the state’s chemical testing scheme from constitutional challenges for violation of the accused’s right to exculpatory evidence and the state’s duty to preserve it, as in the Trombetta case. 

How can a person get an Additional Test (as the statute calls it)?  The time-honored method was to get someone to come down to the jail with a clean jar, and collect a urine sample, with the best attention to chain of custody issues, to be refrigerated and tested quickly.   Today, the better method in Minnesota is to call Additional Testing, Inc. – a local company that employs contract nurses to go out to jails, properly collect samples, preserve them, and submit them to a lab for chemical testing, with good chain of custody.  If the evidence is exculpatory, they can testify in court as well.  The Additional Testing Right has been held to only require police to allow an in custody person the use of a phone (again) to arrange an Additional Test.  I recommend calling Additional Testing, Inc.:  24-hour Dispatcher:  Phone: (612) 333-3226 or Toll Free: (877) 333-3226.

3.  “Is the searching police officer requesting a breath, blood, or urine sample?”  In Minnesota, the police officer may request any of these but if they request blood, the person cannot be deemed a “Refusal” unless the police officer then requests a urine sample which is then also refused.  Similarly, if urine is requested, the person cannot be deemed a “Refusal” unless the police officer then requests a blood sample which is then also refused.

Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.51, subd. 3:  Type of test.  The peace officer who requires a test pursuant to this section may direct whether the test is of blood, breath, or urine. Action may be taken against a person who refuses to take a blood test only if an alternative test was offered and action may be taken against a person who refuses to take a urine test only if an alternative test was offered.

This is called the “Alternative Test Right.”  It only applies to blood and urine requests.

4.  Most callers will (a) not have been in a motor vehicle accident, will (b) have no priors, and (c) won’t submit samples that will be claimed to be 0.20 or more alcohol concentration.  These callers will be better off consenting to the search, after consulting a Minnesota lawyer.  Callers not involved in a collision, with priors or 0.20 or more BAC will usually be better off consenting to providing a sample for testing.  The exceptions to that general statement are unusual and beyond the scope of this Legal First Aid article.

5.  After the samples for chemical testing are taken, or the claimed “refusal” is done, police officers normally will read a Miranda Warning and ask questions from an “Alcohol Influence Report” form;thenwrite down and audio record the answers.  Callers should be advised to remain silent, and decline to answer any questions.  (The questions relate to drinking, feeling impaired, origin and destination, etc.)

By:  Thomas GallagherMinneapolis DWI Lawyer