Minnesota Teen’s DWI Highlights State’s Underage Drunk Driving Law

September 28th, 2013

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This past weekend an 18-year-old in Northfield, MN was arrested after police spotted him driving erratically down the street. Officers say they watched as a car, which was later discovered to have been stolen, swerved in and out of its lane several times, even crossing over the median before finally stopping. Police say the driver of the vehicle pulled the car over himself, getting out and looking under the car for something.

It was at this point that police moved in on the teenage driver. An officer approached the car and told the teen to get back in the vehicle. The whole time the 18-year-old allegedly continued muttering, “Drunk, so drunk” over and over. After getting back inside the vehicle, the driver told the officer to take him to jail.

The arresting officer said that not only did the driver smell of alcohol, but he admitted without prompting that he did not know where he was, where he was going or how he had gotten the car that he was driving. The teen went on to admit to sneaking in the back of a bar in Northfield at closing time and consuming vodka, rum and other alcoholic beverages in an attempt to cause himself to blackout. The teen appeared to be well on his way given his BAC. Once he was arrested and taken to Northfield Safety Center, police determined his blood alcohol concentration was 0.224 percent, or not quite three times the state’s legal limit.

The Minnesota case is an unfortunate one given that such a young person will now have to worry about the damage a drunk driving conviction can cause to his future. The case is also interesting in that it provides a segue to discuss an issue that many people in the state may not fully understand: there is no uniform legal limit in Minnesota. Instead, different groups can be found to violate the law at different levels.

Everyone knows that the legal limit for most drivers in Minnesota is 0.08 percent. What many may not know is that other levels, lower levels, can still result in an arrest depending on the particular facts of the case. For instance, teen drivers like the one in this case fall under Minnesota’s Zero Tolerance law, also known as the “Not a drop” law. This law says that it is a misdemeanor crime for any person younger than 21 to operate a motor vehicle while there is evidence of alcohol in the person’s system. That means that if a young driver, whether they are 16 or 20, blows anything on a Breathalyzer test then they can be found to have violated the state’s underage drinking laws.

While a violation of the zero-tolerance law does result in license suspension, it is not the same thing as a DWI charge and cannot be used to enhance any future DWI convictions. It probably is worth mentioning to those who might be concerned that the Zero Tolerance law only applies to drivers, not to passengers in the car, even if those passengers are under the age of 21.

Source:  Carrie Swiggum, published at SouthernMinn.com.

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Canadian Impaired Driving Measure Receives Serious Attention South Of The Border

September 22nd, 2013

A recent PBS report dealt with a surprisingly effective drunk driving law in British Columbia that has managed to cut the number of drunk driving traffic fatalities nearly in half in only two years. The report discussed how one little girl’s death prompted action on the part of her parents and serious changes by legislators in the Canadian province.

The changes began after a four-year-old girl was hit and killed by an impaired driver. The woman who crashed into the girl admitted to consuming three glasses of wine, enough to be impaired without being over the 0.08 legal limit. The girl’s parents then launched a campaign to bring attention to the danger of those who have consumed some alcohol, but not yet enough to qualify as intoxicated.

In response to their campaign, the Provincial Government made a series of important legal changes. First, they toughened penalties for those who are found to be driving with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08 percent. More importantly, they also created an entirely new range of punishments for those driers who fall below the legal BAC limit but are still considered impaired drivers. The new law says that those who have a BAC between 0.05 percent and 0.08 percent can now face legal penalties.

This low level impairment, reached after only two or three drinks, will result in on-the-spot action by the arresting officer. Police officers who catch drivers in this range are empowered to fine drivers immediately, suspend their license and impound their car that very night for a minimum of three days.

The new laws began to be enforced in late 2010 and the number of traffic fatalities fell sharply. Afraid that the numbers were a fluke, many people withheld judgment until another year had passed, at which point a 55 percent reduction in traffic fatalities had been recorded.

Though some have heralded the measure, others are critical. For one thing, the new law empowers officer to make a lot of decision without oversight, something that has been shown to cause problems in a handful of cases. Beyond this potential for police abuse of power, the law has also seriously harmed the business of local bars and restaurants, with business dropping between 10 and 20 percent since the implementation of the new laws, which are aimed largely at social drinkers.

Even critics of the measure say that the law can teach legislators an important lesson: that to be effective a law does not necessarily need to be draconian; it simply needs to have a quick and sure punishment mechanism. The penalties for driving with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 percent are not extraordinary, generally the fines are minimal and the car impounding lasts for a handful of days. However, the punishment is swift and seldom in dispute. Critics point out that drivers do not need to be threatened with lengthy jail terms for drunk driving laws to be effective, an on-the-spot loss of your car for a week is plenty tough enough to lead to substantial changes in behavior.

Source: “British Columbia Drunk Driving Deaths Cut Nearly in Half,” published at PBS.org.

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Federal Government Attempts To Shine Light On Dark Corners Of Internet

September 11th, 2013

A hotel employee in Charleston, SC made news recently after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized $814.22 worth of his assets. What’s so amazing about $814.22? The seizure has garnered attention because of the form those assets took, 11.02 Bitcoins.

According to the official announcement by the DEA, the forfeiture marks the first time in U.S. history that a federal agency has seized Bitcoin from a criminal suspect. So why did the forfeiture occur? According to law enforcement officials, 31-year-old Eric Hughes was engaged in some shady online dealings, using an online persona “Casey Jones” to trade drugs and prescription narcotics on a website known as the “Silk Road.” Experts say that the Silk Road functions as an underground marketplace on the anonymous Tor Network, a region of the Internet referred to as the “deep web.”

Despite the seizure, the DEA has yet to formally charge Hughes with any crime. Hughes has so far denied being Casey Jones, saying that he had houseguests who he suspects of using his computer to conduct the nefarious online transactions. The case is the first ever involving seizure of the online currency and many expect it to set an important precedent in how such cases are handled in the future.

So what exactly is a Bitcoin and why do law enforcement officials care in the first place? Bitcoins are a recent invention, an online currency that allows individuals to exchange goods online and in person. Meant to resemble Internet gold, Bitcoins are “mined” electronically, by computers crunching complicated equations to slowly unlock stores of the Bitcoin that are hidden around the web. Experts believe that 21 million Bitcoin exist, its finite number lending to its value. Also like gold, Bitcoins fluctuate in value, often wildly so, with the market shifting rapidly every day. Merchants both online and offline have begun accepting the digital currency, ranging from coffee shops in New York and San Francisco to the dating website OKCupid.

So why do law enforcement authorities care? The problem is that in addition to buying muffins and dating site memberships, Bitcoins are often used to purchase illegal items on the Internet. The currency is seen as facilitating the lawlessness that has taken hold on the deep web, with Bitcoin allowing users to purchase drugs, pills, weapons and even child pornography. Most online financial transactions involve intermediaries, like credit card processing companies, which ensure that any transaction can be tied back to an individual. With Bitcoin, the money is exchanged between individuals and online accounts can be created to shield an individual’s real-world identity.

This anonymity is a large part of the appeal of Bitcoin and is also the reason the DEA and other law enforcement agencies have begun circling, waiting for a chance to pounce and shut it down. Just this year the makers of another online currency, known as Liberty Reserve, were indicted and accused of laundering billions of dollars. Last month a judge in Texas declared Bitcoin to be operating as a “currency… or form of money.” The label is an important one in that it cleared the way for the Securities and Exchange Commission to continue an action against an online, Bitcoin-based hedge fund that regulators say was operating a Ponzi scheme. Other agencies, including the FBI, IRS and Homeland Security are also anxiously awaiting recent cases concerning Bitcoin and are said to be working together to construct an approach for how to handle future cases.

All the recent actions surrounding the digital currency appear to be leading towards important changes. It’s thought that the Justice Department and other branches of the federal government will crack down and insist on a lifting of the current cloak of anonymity that shrouds Bitcoin transactions. Events like the Charleston Bitcoin seizure are likely the opening shots in a battle by law enforcement officials to shed some light on what goes on in the deep, dark web.

Source: Glenn Smith, published at PostandCourier.com.

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Minnesota Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Necessity Defense Applies To DWI Civil Actions

September 6th, 2013

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The Minnesota Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case of a woman whose driver’s license was taken from her after she drove her car under the influence in an attempt to flee her abusive husband.

The Court agreed to hear the case of a woman who has continued pursuing her license revocation case, saying that the decision to take away her ability to drive was wrong. Her attorney is arguing that her decision to drive while under the influence should fall under the state’s necessity defense and she should avoid civil penalties.

In Minnesota, the necessity defense is generally an affirmative defense claimed in cases where harm that would have resulted from following the law is found to outweigh the harm that was caused by breaking the law. In this case, appellant’s attorney is arguing that the harm caused by remaining with an abusive husband exceeds the harm of appellant driving under the influence. Appellant’s attorney will make his case before the Supreme Court, arguing that the necessity defense should be extended to cover the state’s implied consent law.

According to news reports, the trouble began in the spring of 2011 when appellant hid in her car to escape a violent fight with her husband at a cabin in Kanabec County. Both parties had been drinking and her husband followed her to the car. Once appellant was inside, her husband jumped onto the front of the vehicle and began pounding his fists into the windshield with enough force that the glass cracked. Appellant then turned on the car and drove less than a mile down the road to a nearby store to ask for help. It was at the store that appellant was arrested.

Police later conducted a test of appellant’s blood and determined that she had a BAC of 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit. appellant agreed to plead guilty to a careless driving charge and had her driver’s license revoked for one year. She has since reconciled with her husband and, even though her revocation period is now over, says she intends to appeal the decision to revoke her license on principle.

So far a district court judge as well as the Minnesota Court of Appeals have ruled against appellant, saying that her necessity defense does not apply to the case. The Courts have determined that the necessity defense, which exists in criminal law cases, should not apply to civil actions such as a license revocation. Moreover, the district court judge who heard the case said that though the harm to appellant personally may have outweighed the harm of driving drunk, the harm to the public is of driving drunk is greater than the danger of an isolated incident of domestic violence. Oral arguments will begin before the state Supreme Court sometime in the next several months.

Source: “Minnesota Supreme Court agrees to hear ‘necessity defense’ case,” by Abby Simons, published at StarTribune.com.

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Tips For Avoiding A DUI Bust This Labor Day

September 1st, 2013

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If you’re like most people, you’ll want to be out with friends relaxing this weekend. For many people a good time in a social setting involves alcohol. Though it’s perfectly fine and safe to drink if you do so responsibly, it can be easy to overdo things and then wind up in legal trouble. The following are some tips that drivers can keep in mind this Labor Day weekend to avoid a drunk driving bust.

First things first, if you know you are going to drink while out and about with friends or family this weekend (or any other weekend for that matter), designate someone to stay sober. It’s important that the designated driver is identified before ever leaving home. If you try and wait until you’re out and having a good time, chances are the decision-making process will become much more difficult and fewer people will be willing (or able) to volunteer. Get the task over with early on so that everyone can relax and have a good time while they’re out.

Second, know your limit and act decisively to cut yourself off when you think it’s time. The legal limit in Minnesota is 0.08 percent and most experts agree that by limiting yourself to one drink per hour you can allow your body enough time to safely process alcohol and stay under the legal limit. If you don’t have a designated driver you have to set a time limit as well as a drink limit before heading out. Before you even take the first sip choose a time that you will stop drinking and make sure it is far enough in advance of your leaving that you will have plenty of time to sober up before hitting the road.   However, the best advice is to to have a sober driver and never put yourself in a position where you have to determine if you feel sober enough to drive.   If you have to think about whether you are sober, then the answer is you probably are not.

Drink plenty of water. Though drinking alcohol is what most people are after when the weather is warm and they’re having a good time, water can be a great way to control drinking. Doctors recommend that for every alcoholic beverage a person consumes they follow it with a glass of water. This helps you stay hydrated and will also reduce your urge to pound cold beers or other alcoholic drinks. Alternating between alcohol and water can help reduce your alcohol consumption and keep you under the legal limit and out of jail.

It’s also important to watch what you’re drinking and keep track of how much alcohol is actually in the drinks you’re consuming. Mixed drinks are usually the most difficult to keep track of because so much can depend on which bartender is pouring your drink. Try and pay attention if the drinks seem unusually potent and account for that difference. If your drinks have been especially strong, then even one drink may be too much.  Again, a designated driver is your best option.

Finally, if you’re out having a good time this Labor Day weekend and you feel like you may have had one too many drinks, do not feel any shame in calling a cab. Some people are reluctant to turn to a taxi, saying they’d rather save the money. Everyone should realize that the few dollars spent on a cab are dwarfed by the thousands of dollars spent handling a typical DUI charge. Between attorney’s fees, court costs, fines and increased insurance costs, a cab is money well spent.

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