Wisconsin Man Behind Bars After Crashing Into Same Vehicle Three Times In One Day

August 26th, 2013

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An almost unbelievable series of events took place earlier this week in neighboring Wisconsin when one 63-year-old man from Port Edwards, WI crashed into the same vehicle three times in one afternoon, culminating in his drunk driving arrest.

Police say that the accused man had recently been released from jail and was on probation for a previous incident where he injured another driver while intoxicated. In the most recent case, the man is accused of colliding with the back of a woman’s vehicle at a red light located in Wisconsin Rapids. The woman driving the vehicle apparently got out of her car, yelling at the accused about the accident and demanding that he get his car off her bumper.

The woman then checked her car to be sure it was not damaged, got back inside and prepared to pull away from the light. However, before the woman could drive off the man yet again crashed into the back of her car. The woman, at this point furious, leaped out of her vehicle and began cursing at the accused until he again backed his car up.

The woman told officers that she then jumped back inside of her vehicle and sped away from the intersection in an attempt to put as much distance as possible between herself and the obviously dangerous driver. The woman then drove to a gas station located several blocks away and parked her car, attempting to collect her thoughts.

It was at the gas station, a neighborhood Kwik Trip, where the woman was stunned to see the same man’s vehicle enter the parking lot, jump a curb and proceed to slam into the side of her car, sending the vehicle spinning out of the parking space and into the lane of traffic. The accused apparently parked his car in front of the building and got out, behaving as if everything was fine.

The woman noted in the criminal complaint that at no point did she believe the man had purposely hit her vehicle, instead, she felt he was drunk and unaware of his actions. The accused  was arrested again for a probation violation but was immediately released and told to stay away from alcohol until his court date. Only a few days later, police received a call from a concerned neighbor who asked that authorities check in on the man. When they arrived they found him passed out, ultimately arresting him yet again for having consumed alcohol in violation of his probation. When police performed a chemical test to determine the man’s BAC they were all stunned to discover it was 0.378, nearly five times the legal limit. A judge recently heard man’s case and revoked the man’s license for 18 months and ordered him to pay several thousand dollars in fines, install and ignition interlock device on his vehicle and attend alcohol treatment.

Though the driver was punished for his actions, he got off lucky compared to the much harsher laws in Minnesota. Minnesota law says that because the accused would qualify as a repeat offender, he would be subject to a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 days incarceration, at least two of which must be served in jail. For every day less than 30 not served, the offender would have to perform eight hours of community service. These mandatory sentences would continue to escalate for each subsequent arrest, to the point that a person in Minnesota who is convicted of a fifth DWI offense within 10 years would face one year incarceration, at least 60 days would be required to be served consecutively in jail.

Source: “Drunken driver who struck vehicle 3 times gets jail,” published at WisconsinRapidsTribune.com.

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Case of California Cop Highlights Alarming Issues With DWI Arrests

August 25th, 2013

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In a headline-making case out of California the illegal actions of one cop are on full display before a panel of stunned jurors. Prosecutors told jurors in the Contra Costa County courthouse that they would hear tales of how one cop essentially sold his badge and engaged in a practice known as “dirty DUIs.” The fact that the practice even has a name will likely alarm many people who would never expect the people hired to protect the public to engage in such amoral behavior.

The trial, which just started this week, accuses Stephen Tanabe of violating a host of federal laws related to his role in making staged drunk driving arrests. Why did Tanabe do it? Prosecutors say that the cop was bought off by a private investigator and agreed to arrest at least three husbands of clients of the investigator.

Prosecutors say the cop was given money, an expensive gun and cocaine in exchange for making the staged arrests. The government says the private investigator approached Tanabe about making the busts so that the wives of the men would be able to strengthen their positions in ongoing divorce and custody cases.

The scheme was a complicated one and occurred when employees of the private investigator would meet the men at bars and coerce them into drinking. The private investigator, Chris Butler, would then text Tanabe and let him know the exact location of the drivers, where he would then pull them over and take them to jail. Tanabe has been charged with making three such staged arrests, but Butler, who is acting as a key witness in the case, has said that he participated in at least 12 such staged DUI arrests.

For his part, Tanabe’s attorneys argue that while their client did arrest several the men for drunk driving, there was nothing illegal about his actions. Instead, Tanabe claims that Contra Costa County is a relatively peaceful area that seldom sees serious crime. As a result, the department heads exert serious pressure on police officers to meet strict performance objectives that include making a certain number of DUI arrests each month.

Tanabe claims that the arrests he is being accused of staging were actually the product of pressure from supervisors to meet strict quotas. Failure to meet the quotas would result in disciplinary action. Tanabe claims that he and other officers in the town were frequently told to wait outside bars to watch for drivers that appeared to be unsteady or otherwise intoxicated.

Regardless of which side is telling the truth, residents of the Contra Costa community are likely disturbed at unsavory practices among local law enforcement officials. If prosecutors are right, that means cops in the area can be bought and paid for, acting as participants in plots to set up unsuspecting individuals. If Tanabe is telling the truth, then that means police officers were under extreme pressure to meet DUI quotas, lying in wait and routinely pulling over anyone seen leaving a bar. Either way, the focus does not appear to be creating a safer community, but instead lining someone’s pockets.

Source: “‘Dirty DUI’ federal trial gets underway,” published at KTVU.com.

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Minnesota DWI GERD Case and The Rules Of Evidence

August 22nd, 2013

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A recent case decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals dealt with a drunk driving defendant who attempted to use heartburn (or GERD) as a defense. In the case, appellant’s attorney argued that his client’s breathalyzer test could not be considered reliable because Murtha was in the midst of an acid reflux episode while the breath test was being administered.

As we’ve discussed here before, GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease) is a serious condition that has been proven to impact the results of breathalyzer tests. The condition, which causes contents from a person’s stomach be regurgitated up the throat and into the mouth has been found to cause significantly higher BAC readings than are accurate. These readings are off because undigested alcohol or alcohol vapors from the stomach can be pushed up into the person’s mouth which interferes with the breathalyzer’s reading.

Appellant’s attorney called an expert witness to the stand to explain how GERD can lead to inaccurate breath test results due to regurgitation pushing alcohol into the defendant’s mouth. Appellant’s attorney then attempted to ask the expert witness about the reliability of appellant’s actual test, something the district court judge refused to allow given that the question called for speculation on the witness’ part without proper foundation.

After the explanation from appellant’s expert witness had concluded, appellant’s attorney sought to introduce evidence of his client’s GERD diagnosis by submitting appellant’s diagnosis from his doctor found in the medical records was technically hearsay.

Appellant then appealed his case where the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court judge’s ruling. The Court cited Minnesota Rule of Evidence 803, which explains that a patient’s statements to a doctor found in medical records can be admitted under a hearsay exception at trial. However, a doctor’s diagnosis contained in medical records cannot. The logic goes that the patient’s statement in the medical records would likely be accurate given that the patient has every reason to tell the truth to his or her doctor so that they are properly diagnosed and treated.

So does this mean there would be no way in Minnesota to have the GERD diagnosis introduced into evidence? Of course not, as the Court of Appeals clearly noted all Appellant’s attorney needed to do was bring the man’s doctor in to testify. Because appellant’s doctor failed to testify at trial the evidence concerning his GERD diagnosis was rightfully excluded from evidence. As a result, the decision to revoke appellant driving privileges was affirmed and his attempt to argue that acid reflux unfairly altered his test results was never fully explored.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Kans Law Firm is a Minneapolis, Minnesota criminal defense firm focusing on the representation of individuals charged with alcohol related criminal and driving offenses.

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Recent Supreme Court Blood Test Decision Leads To Changes In Minnesota DWI Law

August 16th, 2013

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We previously discussed the important Supreme Court case, Missouri v. McNeely; a case that dealt with the legality of warrantless blood tests. In that case, Missouri and some 30 other states asked the Supreme Court to grant police officers nearly total discretion in deciding when a suspect’s blood could be drawn without a warrant. The Court thankfully rejected this idea, holding instead that police are required to try and obtain a search warrant from a judge before ordering blood tests for DWI suspects.

Though the case before the Supreme Court came from Missouri, the ruling sent shockwaves across the country and has resulted in legal action here in Minnesota. All across the state, breath tests and blood tests are commonplace for those who are suspected of driving under the influence and, surprising to some, warrants are few and far between. Up until now, warrants are not sought in most drunk driving arrests in Minnesota. One Minnesota county has now taken action to bring their laws into compliance with the dictates contained in the McNeely case.

Officials in Stearns County, MN say that they are the first place in the state to require police officers to obtain a search warrant before attempting to obtain a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver. Police officers and deputies will no longer read the state’s implied consent advisory to suspects, but will instead ask the driver to voluntarily submit to a chemical test to determine their level of intoxication. If the driver refuses, the arresting police officer or deputy will seek a search warrant for a blood sample.

The news is a victory for citizens in Stearns County who no longer need to fear warrantless blood tests that take place without any judicial oversight. The law is clear that suspects are allowed to waive the warrant requirement if they choose to do so. Without such a voluntary waiver, police will have to get a judge to sign off on any blood test.

Local police officers have complained that the new requirements will create an unfair burden, forcing them to waste valuable time filling out paperwork and tracking down judges. Civil rights advocates say that the small amount of time spent obtaining a warrant far outweighs the risks of violating an individual’s rights to be secure from unreasonable searches.

To ensure that delays do not unnecessarily hamper police investigations, local judges have said they will be handling drunk driving warrant requests by fax while they are at home. Courts in Stearns County have purchased portable fax machines to ensure that judges remain on-call while at home in the evening or over the weekend when many DWI stops take place. This way, police officers cannot claim that the warrant requirement is preventing them from doing their job of keeping dangerous drivers off the street.

Source:  Steph Crock, published at KAALTV.com.

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Swapping Seats Leads To Double DUI Charges

August 15th, 2013

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A  recent story out of Pennsylvania made headlines when police revealed that a couple from aptly named Freedom, PA were both arrested for driving drunk in the same car, at the same time, on the same night. How, you might be asking did they accomplish this feat? Police say it’s because the couple switched seats shortly after being pulled over.

Records say that the couple, 33-year-old man and 24-year-old woman, face drunk driving charges relating to their July 4th traffic stop. News reports indicate that when police tried to pull the driver over for swerving down the road, he quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot where he and the woman were observed switching seats. Police say it was the woman who was behind the wheel when they approached the car and both occupants smelled of alcohol. Police said that later tests revealed that both had BAC levels above the legal limit.

Though it’s hard to imagine, this kind of double DUI incident is not as rare as it ought to be. Last year two men from Illinois were charged with DUI after deputies watched them trade seats during a traffic stop. Later tests indicated that both the original driver and the passenger were intoxicated so the swap only succeeded in increasing their criminal charges.

Just last month the Miami Herald reported on the case of two sisters who were simultaneously arrested for DUI. As the sisters were being pulled over the two swapped seats in plain view of the arresting officer and his in-car camera. One sister was found to have a BAC of 0.127 while the other came in at 0.129. Though the second sister never actually drove the car, she only sat in the driver’s seat, this did not prevent her from being slapped with the same DUI charge as her sister.

Many people might wonder how it is that the second drivers, the ones who agreed to swap seats, could be charged with drunk driving. After all, no actual driving ever took place. In the case of the Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania drivers, the second “driver” only sat behind the wheel, never once hitting the accelerator. Could such an arrest happen in Minnesota? Unfortunately, yes.

Many don’t realize that in Minnesota it is possible to be arrested for drunk driving without ever having driving anywhere. Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.20 states that it is illegal “for any person to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle” while under the influence. It’s the last part, about being in “physical control” that can lead to trouble.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has made clear that if a person is found in a car, even if he or she was not driving at the time, that person can still be charged with a DWI. The Court has said in several rulings that “physical control” means more than simply driving a car and can be stretched to include cases where a person is located close enough to operate the controls of the vehicle.

If you’ve been drinking and are pulled over don’t try and swap seats with a passenger. This can only lead to further legal trouble for both of you. Instead, consult an experienced Minnesota DWI attorney who can advise you of your options and help create a plan for moving forward.

Source: “2 in same car charged with DUI,” by The Associated Press, published at WTSP.com.

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