Tag Archives: Search and Seizure Law

Countermeasures at a DWI Stop: the Party Question

Is it a crime to drink and drive? Of course it is not.  But there are people out there – like MADD people – who appear hellbent upon changing the laws to bring back the Alcohol Prohibition, one step at a time.

It used to be “drunk driving” was a crime. Then in the 1970s the criminal laws were expanded to include “per se impaired driving laws.”   Per se roughly translates from the Latin to “the thing itself” or “by itself.”  A per se drunk driving law is a law that makes driving with an arbitrary alcohol-level a crime – even if the driver is not drunk, not impaired at all. That’s why you don’t hear the term “drunk driving” much anymore.  But why should it be a crime to drive when driving skills are not impaired?

Ok.  So the laws are unfair, and morally bankrupt – punishing the innocent and their families for no good purpose.  Fine.  There it is.  So how can you protect yourself and your family from this potential injustice?

What can a person do during a DWI stop to protect their rights?

This is mostly a question that criminal defense lawyers hear at a party.  Why?  Because almost all people stopped and later charged with DWI didn’t do any of these things.  But it can make for great conversation at a party.  There are a few different approaches and answers to the question.  So let’s narrow our hypothetical, and provide one.

Since most people stopped for a possible DWI have an alcohol concentration of less than 0.15, have no priors, and have not exhibited impaired driving conduct – let’s start with all of those assumptions, as well as assuming Minnesota laws.  Given the low speed limits these days and the most drivers travel faster than the speed limit most of the time, let’s assume a police officer stops the driver for speeding late one Friday or Saturday.   The police squad car take-down lights are visible in the rear-view mirror.  Now what?

The Police Officer Approaches the Vehicle

Police are trained to observe all of your actions and note any that could be interpreted as supportive of suspicion of impairment (and ignore the rest).  At this phase these include:

  • odor of alcohol
  • eyes – “bloodshot, watery”
  • couldn’t find or fumbled with driver’s license and insurance card
  • admitted drinking, coming from a bar, a party

What are some potentially effective countermeasures, then? If the window is not open, or open about an inch or so – that is plenty to pass the drivers license and insurance card through, but not enough to expose the odor of alcohol.  You can refuse to do lower the window to force the officer to make a forceful command to do so, making it difficult for them to argue you did so voluntarily.  When speaking to the police officer through the almost closed window, the driver can avoid eye contact.  This prevents the officer from being able to observe the cliché “bloodshot watery eyes” they imagine come only with drinking.  It’s a good idea to have the drivers license and insurance card in hand immediately after stopping, well before the police officer walks up to the vehicle to request those.  They are in your hands already, which are in plain sight on the steering wheel.  If asked “have you been drinking tonight?” you are not required to answer or answer responsively.  It is a bad idea to lie, for many reasons.  It is also a bad idea to admit facts the officer can use to build “probable cause” to ask you out of the car, or for arrest later.

If you were stopped for speeding, the police officer should just write you a speeding ticket and send you on your way – unless you give him or her probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify asking you out of your vehicle.

Police ask you to step out of the car.  Now what?

If you use the car or car door for support when getting out or walking, they will note that as suspicious.  So don’t.  They will ask you to walk behind your car, in front of theirs.  Their squad car lights will be on full bore.  They will ask you to perform field exercises they like to call “Field Sobriety Tests.”  These are not scientifically valid, though the government claims otherwise.  Sober, trained police officers “fail” these “tests.”  How will you “pass” them?  And who is your judge?  The police officer!  What to do then?  Do not perform field exercises when asked to do so.  Do not do “Field Sobriety Tests!”  Common ones include:

  • Nine step walk and turn
  • One leg stand
  • Recite the alphabet, backwards etc.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (follow the pen or finger with eyes only, without moving head)
  • Walk a straight line

You cannot be required by law to do any of these. It would be a foolish mistake to willingly do any of them.

“Preliminary Breath Test” (PBT)

Minnesota statutes authorize police officers to require a driver to blow into a PBT machine – a portable breath-alcohol machine only under certain conditions where there is a basis to suspect DWI or selected other alcohol-related offenses.  Don’t worry about whether those preconditions exist.  Your lawyer can do that later if need be.  What is important is that a PBT machine report of 0.08 or more can provide probable cause to arrest for DWI, and so can “refusal” to perform a PBT. Refusing a PBT is not a crime.  That would only provide probable cause to arrest.  One can imagine a logical person, knowing that, deciding to refuse the PBT if they felt sure they would end up with a PBT report of well over .08, for example .20 or more.  That person might feel they would have nothing to lose by refusing – since they would be arrested either way.  Compare that to a person who believed they would get a PBT report of less than 0.08.  That person would be foolish to refuse it, since it could result in their not being arrested.

Keep in mind that the little PBT machine on the side of the road, is not the same as the big, evidentiary breath-alcohol machine at the police station.  If a person is arrested, they can be asked to submit a sample for alcohol testing again, even though they already submitted to a PBT.  The PBT report is not admissible in a criminal DWI trial because they are too unreliable and inaccurate.

If arrested, then what?

Every step further in the chain of events described above brings the driver closer to arrest (unless the PBT is less than 0.08).   If the PBT reads too high, that and the rest will be followed typically with handcuffs and the back of the squad car.  Then normally the arresting officer will wait for back up or a tow truck, and leave for the police station once either arrives.  Talking is not a good idea at any point, including while in the squad car.

At or near the police station (or hospital for a blood draw), the police normally read “the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory” which informs the driver of certain legal rights.  The most important is your right to consult a lawyer before deciding whether to submit to chemical testing.

It is always, always, always – a good idea to call a lawyer first!  The police are required by law to help you do so.  If they fail to help you call a lawyer, the chemical test could be suppressed from evidence.  You should always make every effort to call a lawyer in this situation – even if you are still sitting in the squad car in handcuffs!  Tell the officer you want to call a lawyer.   This part is usually recorded – a good thing.

The other important right is secret in the sense that it is never mentioned in the “Implied Consent Advisory” by the cop.  what is it?  It is your Constitutional right to exculpatory evidence, as manifested in your statutory right to an “Additional Test.”  Say what?  You have the legal right in Minnesota to a Second Test, after the you provide the sample requested by police. In this situation, the arrested person should always, always, always request an Additional Test.  If you do, the police are only required to give you a phone to use.  You can use the phone to call whoever you need to call to arrange for an additional test.  See the midnight DWI jail call to a Minnesota lawyer blog post for more on this issue.

Stay safe out there.

By: Thomas C Gallagher, Minneapolis DWI Defense Lawyer

The Moral Peril of Minnesota Asset Forfeiture Laws

The Minnesota Senate is now considering a Bill to reform abusive asset forfeiture laws, SF2613.

Let’s review Minneosta’s current law on asset forfeiture (government takes your money):

  1. The government (police) can take your property at any time if suspicious to them, even if you are innocent.
  2. The burden is on you, not them, to do something about getting a court to look at it.
  3. If you do nothing, they keep your property, your money; and you lose; without any court or judge ever even seeing the case.
  4. If you want to do something about it, you need cash for a lawyer and court filing fees.  The law provides the government a free lawyer and requires them to pay no court filing fees.
  5. The police agency that targeted you and took you down gets to keep 70% commission on the cash, valuables, your vehicle they seize from you.  Could this affect their honesty about their investigation; or, the appearance of propriety?

Property rights for common people are relatively recent individual human rights, against the government or the king.  In 1066, William the Conqueror seized nearly all the land in England.  He exercised complete power over the land, but granted fiefs to landholder stewards, who paid fees and provided military services as a condition for use of the King’s land and people.

William the Conqueror

Centuries later, the Magna Carta asserted that cash payments were required for expropriations of land.  Over time, tenants held more ownership rights rather than only possessory rights over their land.

The Third Amendment to the United States Constitution says:

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

The intention of this amendment was to prevent soldiers being quartered in private property as the British armed forces had done in Colonial America by under the Quartering Act before the American Revolutionary War.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution says:

“No person shall be … nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The idea was to destroy what was left of feudalism, where the king or the government owns property, and the common people owned nothing, or owned nothing except at the discretion, whim or caprice of the government.  The third, fifth, eighth and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution all are attempts to further this goal.  But history has repeatedly shown us that this struggle for individual property rights against theft or seizure or taking by the ruling government has been ongoing.  Ground has been gained and lost, and gained again over the years, both in politics and in law.

Hypothetical?

Imagine that you are peacefully driving down the road, having an average day.  Then, you are stopped by people in a vehicle armed with weapons.  They hold you against your will.  They question you in a threatening manner.  The ask for your “consent” to search you and your vehicle, though they make it  appear that it will happen regardless.  They take your personal valuables.  They seize your vehicle.  There is no court process.  It’s just gone.  They have it now.  You no longer do.

What would you call this?  Armed robbery?

What if the “people in a vehicle armed with weapons” who stopped you were police officers of the State of Minnesota, acting under the color of the laws of Minnesota?  Now what do you call it?

“Administrative Asset Forfeiture.”  What does that mean?

Asset forfeiture laws are a type of government “taking” of private property that has been around a long time, but they have degenerated in recent years from “Judicial Asset Forfeiture” after conviction into “Administrative Asset Forfeiture” on a police officer’s view of suspicion.  What’s the difference?  First, a little background and context.

If you steal from a thief, is that stealing?

Ask Robin Hood, or the Sheriff of Nottingham.

There are two basic moral justifications offered for laws permitting the government to seize and keep private property suspected to have some connection to crime – instrumentality and criminal proceeds.

Instrumentality.  If a burglar uses special tools to commit a burglary, then the government seizes and keeps those as instrumentality of the crime, this may somewhat disable the burglar from committing a similar crime.  Almost all asset forfeiture seizures in Minnesota are of this type.  The instrumentality rationale for property forfeiture, however, has been stretched wafer thin.  It is now most commonly used in cases of suspected petty crimes like DWI, prostitution and banned drugs possession; not commonly in serious or violent crimes.

Criminal proceeds.  This type is relatively rare, and involves and attempt to trace (equitable tracing) the source of the funds used to purchase an asset to crime.  These usually involve larger dollar amounts only, well over $100,000 per case.  The type of crime alleged is less important.

Is the Property Guilty?  Is the Owner?

Nothing Personal: In Rem Jurisdiction.  Asset forfeiture cases, the few that ever make it into court, are usually captioned with the claimant as a party to the lawsuit against the property.  Rem is Latin meaning “thing.” When courts exercise in rem jurisdiction, they assert authority over a thing, not a person.  Like much in the law, there are historical reasons for this.

If the justification for the “taking” of another’s property is that the owner is a criminal, or that the property is somehow related to crime; should we be certain that the owner really did commit a crime in connection with the property?

Should police be able to seize and keep your vehicle or other property even though you’ve not been convicted of a crime?  Before you get a hearing before a fair and neutral magistrate?

In Minnesota today, police can seize your vehicle or other property under circumstances they view as suspicious, keep it, sell it and keep the cash, unless you file a court challenge “EXACTLY AS PRESCRIBED IN MINNESOTA STATUTES SECTION …” within 60 days.  You’ll need money for lawyer and court filing fees – just to get a day in court.  The money they get from your property after they sell it?  “70 percent of the money or proceeds must be forwarded to the appropriate agency…” i.e., the Police Agency that originally took your Private Property.  This is Minnesota’s current “administrative” asset forfeiture scheme.

What about “Judicial Asset Forfeiture?”

Judicial asset forfeiture is slightly more fair in that it affords procedural due process – the right to notice and a hearing before a neutral magistrate before the government can permanently keep your property.  A serious problem with this type is that a criminal conviction is not currently required before the government can prevail in a judicial asset forfeiture case.

Who are the victims of government asset forfeiture?

The salt of the earth – the common people of modest means have disproportionately been the victims of government abuses, negligence and shoddy practices in the area of criminal law generally.  When it comes to asset forfeiture laws, it is no different.  When police officers on an asset-forfeiture treasure hunt take cash, gold, vehicles, other valuables from a person who is never charged, never convicted of any crime; what is the cost-benefit ratio for that person to fight for return of the property in court?  Could they even afford (hire a lawyer, pay a court filing fee) to if they wanted to?  Can they do all that in time to meet the 60 day deadline?  Would that cost too much relative to what was stolen from them by police to be worth it?  Do they have enough faith in the legal process to believe it would be fair, anyway?  What will the medium term ramifications of this be, politically?

The innocent are victims of asset forfeiture laws:  Sometimes the innocent owner is not accused of having any criminal association, but merely an association with another who is suspected, such as a spouse, parent or employer.  This is an anti-marriage law, that encourages divorce of a troubled spouse.  The Minnesota Supreme Court recently published a case that makes this clear, and a majority of the Justices asked the Minnesota legislature to reform the statutes, in the Laase case.  So will the legislature and the government heed this call, from the Court and form the People?

Is the Minnesota government corrupt, victimizing the weak?  Are its laws a corrupting influence on our good police officers?

Has the time has come to reform (or repeal entirely) asset forfeiture laws in Minnesota?  Call the legislature.  Support the Reform Bill.

Author: Thomas C Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.  Link to his Minnesota Drug Forfeiture Law page.

Minneapolis police investigate MyFastPass.com

According to recent news reports on press releases from Minneapolis police; local and federal law enforcement have arrested at least one suspect and executed search warrants – yielding a database of subscribers to My Fast Pass, apparently in connection with claimed criminal prostitution. An interesting twist in this case, police have publicly declared:

“As part of our ongoing criminal investigation, it is our intention to have face to face contact with people on this list, to include men and women. If you feel it is in your best interest to have input into the time and place of this meeting you can email [minneapolis police].”

I guess you can’t blame a fellow for trying, right?  One must wonder though – what kind of person (in that database) would find it in their best interest to set up an appointment for a police interrogation?  Why help the government take you down?

BillofRightsMost everyone realizes their sacred Constitutional right to silence in the face of police questioning, and their right to have a lawyer present from television and movies.  Unfortunately, many of those entertainments show the fictional suspect waiving their rights, to quickly commit legal suicide – but it does help move the story along, doesn’t it?

Too few movies and television stories show the innocent bullied or tricked into confessing or admitting facts by trained police officers. Criminal defense lawyers generally advise people suspected by police to (a) remain silent; (b) do not consent to any search of person or property; and (c) consult and retain a good criminal lawyer as soon as possible. In pre-charge, investigatory cases, an ounce or prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure.

FFI about Prostitution Laws in MinnesotaMinneapolis criminal law: www.Mpls-Criminal-Lawyer.com

(Note: This was originally posted on another of the authors blogs on June 20, 2009 – moved to here, deleted there.)

Avoiding Traffic Stops – New Minnesota Laws 2009

Another year, another truckload of new laws – the usual, right?  How does that affect you?  For the most part, hopefully it doesn’t.

But when you consider the fact that most criminal law problems – large and small – start as vehicle traffic stops; it pays to be aware of new laws allowing police to stop you.  Some of these went into effect June, July and some August 1, 2009.  All represent an expansion of government power and a reduction of your liberty and freedom.

 Do you remember several years ago when advocates of another law to mandate seat-belt use upon penalty of a petty misdemeanor fine, reassured us “don’t worry, we will never ask for a primary seat belt law;”  How long is “never,” again?  Not that long, it seems.

It starts with a traffic stop...

It starts with a traffic stop…

Police now can stop you for merely not wearing a Seat-belt in Minnesota.A “primary violation” seat belt law gives police the legal right to stop a vehicle if someone in the vehicle appears to not wear a seat belt.  The previous version of the seat belt law did not allow traffic stops solely for the appearance of not wearing a seat belt.  This year’s law does.  The law eliminates personal choice, and personal responsibility.  It hands over more responsibility and more power to the government, taking it away form the individual.  It reduces the need for people to educate themselves, be responsible for themselves, and develop a personal moral code.  It reduces your freedom.  As usual, they claim sacrificing your freedom is worth it – for your own good.

The new “primary” seat belt violation law increases the potential for stops and arrests resulting from racial profiling.  Racial profiling is a real problem – difficult to solve.  Though police generally don’t view themselves as racist (few people do), they are no different from the rest of us, and are no more perfect in relation to racial stereotyping and its effects.  We know that when it comes to race, there is a disparate impact upon people identifiable as part of a racial minority group that can only be explained by race.  Creating more opportunities for police to stop people for petty, technical violations inevitably leads a worsening of the racial profiling problem.

Social control by force – by law enforcement – is corrosive to our culture and our youth.  Why learn responsibility as an individual if the government allows you little of it, and controls ever smaller aspects of your life – year after year, law after law?  This seat belt law gives law enforcement yet another reason to pull someone over, and to find another, bigger reason to interfere with your life.

Expansion of Child Seat law.

Under the new law, children in a motor vehicle must now be in a child passenger restraint system until their eighth birthday or they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.  Of course, this is yet another reason for police to stop you if it appears you might be in violation of this.

Global Positioning Systems on Windshield .

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can now lawfully be mounted or located near the bottommost part of a vehicle’s windshield.  Previously, anything mounted on the front or rear windshield put the driver at risk of a traffic stop by police.  The “obstructed windshield” statute, used by police ot justify such traffic stops, does have some language about obstruction to the drivers view – yet, it gave police the legal excuse to stop someone if there was anything on the windshield, or between the windshield and the driver.  These have included RADAR detectors (otherwise legal), notepads stuck to the windshield, air fresheners or other items hanging from the rearview mirror, and the like – in addition to GPS units mounted to the windshield.  At least now there is an exception for GPS units mounted to the lowest portion of the windshield.  Presumably in that location, the driver’s view will not be impeded.

What about a RADAR detector?  Prudence might argue for a newer RADAR detector with a GPS unit incorporated in the same unit.  That – or don’t mount it to the windshield.  (See, Speeding Laws in Minnesota for a discussion of MN speed law.)

Tips for Avoiding Traffic Stops.

Other than changing your race, age, car, etc., how can you minimize your risk of a traffic stop?  Of course, obeying the traffic laws seems obvious.  But what about all of the technicalities the police can use to either ruin your day, or ruin your life?  Here’s a list of a few:

  1. Avoid placing any decals of any kind on your front or rear windshield, even where instructed to do so by a government agency.  Instead, place them on a side window, where necessary.
  2. Make sure there are no cracks in your windshields.  In winter, make sure they are free of ice and snow.
  3. Avoid hanging items from your rear view mirror, like air fresheners.  Place them below the windshield level.  Avoid hanging anything from sun visors.
  4. Make sure all of your lights, brake lights, turn and lane change indicator lights, as well as license plate illumination light – are all working.
  5. Make sure your vehicle is displaying proper license plate or other registration evidence.
  6. Make sure your vehicle’s suspension, alignment and steering are good enough that your vehicle does not weave.
  7. Avoid tinted glass police may view as illegal.  (And work on changing this law.)

Given the plethora of overreaching laws already in existence, it has never been more important to prevent police from violating your privacy and liberty interests.  Traffic stops are the narrow end of the wedge the government can drive into you and your life, to hurt or destroy you.  Every police contact creates a risk of a life-altering criminal charge – innocent or not.  Every smart citizen should strive to avoid these police contacts in the first place.

FFI: Author, Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.