In Minnesota, you face lengthy jail time, license loss, and fines for driving while impaired. These potential penalties become more severe if you have a bad driving history. Minnesota law allows a judge to sentence a person who was convicted of driving while impaired more harshly if the person has qualifying events within ten years of the date of the arrest for driving while impaired. Three prior qualifying offenses can make the ordinary DWI case and turn it into a desperate fight for freedom. A recent decision from the Minnesota court of appeals illustrates this point clearly.
In a recent case, a jury convicted a man for DWI based upon evidence of the officer’s observations of the defendant’s driving. The defendant also failed field sobriety tests, appeared to be intoxicated, and failed a breath test. The sentencing judge reviewed the defendant’s criminal history and found that the man was convicted of three prior qualifying events within the previous ten years. The man was convicted of felony DWI. The defendant faced up to seven years of incarceration and a $14,000 fine for the felony DWI conviction. The defendant appealed his sentence to the appeals court.
The defendant argued on appeal that one of the previous convictions should not have counted against him. A conviction for criminal vehicular operation appeared on his driving history. Criminal vehicular operation or homicide means causing injury or death to another person as a result of operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while having any amount of opiate or cocaine-based narcotics, excluding marijuana, in the body at the time of the crash.
The defendant argued that, at the time of his arrest, the law failed to include criminal vehicular operation as one of the offenses the state could use as a penalty enhancement. To be sure, at the time of the man’s arrest, the Legislature reworked the statutes and excluded criminal vehicular operation as one of the offenses qualifying the defendant for an enhanced penalty. To further advance his argument, the defendant correctly argued that criminal laws must be strictly construed to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused. The defendant was correct, as a general proposition. The appeals court did not see it his way.
The appeals court stepped in and in essence re-wrote the law for Minnesota’s lawmakers. The appeals court upheld the felony DWI conviction. The appeals court ruled that reading the law as written did not make any sense because the Legislature intended to include a wide variety of crimes into the definition of a prior qualifying driving while impaired event. The appeals court said that leaving the defendant’s criminal vehicular offense out of the list of crimes for which a DWI conviction can be enhanced created an “absurd result.”
This decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals can certainly leave any defense attorney scratching his or her head in reviewing the court’s rational. After all, if the state Legislature did not include the category of offenses, why would the appeals court feel it necessary to, in essence, re-write the law to make it fit?
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
Attorney Doug Kans has over 20 years of experience fighting for people charged with DWI in Minnesota. His track record speaks for itself. To give yourself the best chance of beating your case, you must immediately get to work on your defense. Call Attorney Kans today at 952-835-6314 to schedule your free case review.
State v. Smith, Minn: Court of Appeals 2016