The Minnesota Court of Appeals held in State v. Street, an unpublished opinion, that a defendant’s traumatic brain injury was not relevant for the purposes of his trial for second-degree test refusal because a person’s inability to understand the implied-consent advisory is not a basis for an affirmative defense so long as the person understands that he is being offered a chemical test.
The driver in Street was stopped for speeding and subsequently arrested for DWI. Prior to his arrest, Street informed the deputy that he suffered from a traumatic brain injury. At the detention center, the deputy read the implied-consent advisory to Street and provided him with a telephone and directory to contact an attorney. At this point Street became very agitated and after only a few minutes Street told the deputy that he was finished. The deputy then asked Street if he would submit to a breath test, Street replied by calling the deputy an offensive name. The deputy asked Street a second time to which Street responded, “probably not.”
At trial, Street tried to introduce evidence of the existence of his traumatic brain injury and that he intended to present an affirmative defense of reasonable grounds for refusal. The district court denied Street’s request finding that as long as a person understands he is being offered a chemical test, failure to understand the consequences and/or the inability to make a reasonable judgment is not an affirmative defense. Moreover, there is no mental incapacity defense, thus a person’s thought process is irrelevant.
On appeal Street argues that a new trial is required because of the exclusion of evidence that Street suffered from a traumatic brain injury preventing him from presenting a reasonable refusal defense and from explaining his demeanor to the jury.
The Court in Street framed the first issue whether lack of understanding caused by a traumatic brain injury can constitute a defense to the crime of test refusal. Street contends that he refused to take the chemical test because he did not understand the advisory as a result of his brain injury and that his refusal was reasonable.
The Court rejected Street’s argument after a detailed analysis of the implied-consent statute. The Court found that a defendant’s lack of understanding or confusion is a reasonable ground for refusal only if the police have contributed to the confusion. The Court reasoned that any person who drives a motor vehicle consents to chemical testing through the process of applying for and receiving a driver’s license and that the state is not required to prove any particular mental state when a person is charged with refusal.
The Court in Street focused on whether the driver understood he was being asked to take a chemical test. Furthermore, the inability to understand the consequences of refusal or to make a reasonable judgment is immaterial as authorization to drive is conditioned on consenting to chemical testing or being subject to criminal and civil penalties.
Street further argued that by excluding the evidence of his traumatic brain injury he was denied his constitutional right to explain to the jury his conduct at the time of his offense. The Court briefly rejected this argument finding that the exclusion of evidence is left to the discretion of the trial court and the court of appeals would only reverse the district court’s decision if the defendant was actually prejudiced. Street was aware that he was unable to use the evidence for an affirmative defense however, Street wanted to use the evidence for the limited purpose of explaining himself to the jury.
The Court reasoned that the degree to which a witness’s testimony must be restricted to avoid the threat of confusion is left to the discretion of the district court. The Court further noted that although it was difficult to strike a balance between the harm of Street’s case that would be caused by excluding the evidence against the potential to mislead the jury, the district court did not exceed its bounds by excluding the evidence of the traumatic brain injury. Allowing Street to present evidence of his brain injury was outweighed by the possibility that the jury would be mislead into thinking the brain injury was an affirmative defense to chemical test refusal.