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Minnesota DWI Law | Did Police Follow Procedure During my DWI Arrest?

Maybe, Maybe Not. Here’s Why You Need to Find Out

After nearly 40 years in practice, we have worked with tens of thousands of Minnesotans to settle their DWI cases. We have witnessed a wide range of human emotions. 

Some clients express outrage. Others break down in tears.

It’s a lot for anyone to take. Many feel certain they will be found guilty. Nearly all worry about the impact on their futures. The idea of going to jail can send even the strongest into a downward spiral. But while their emotions may vary widely, the clients who step into the Gerald Miller Law Firm often recount a strikingly similar story. 

What Happened?

Some recall waking up an unfamiliar place after a black-out night of drinking. They have a sinking feeling in their chest that something terribly wrong has occurred. Others recall that same feeling when they first saw the blaring lights of the cop car in their rear-view mirror. Overwhelming dread pairs with a single thought: “I’m screwed.” DWI clients come from all walks of life. They are people you know, the folks you see every day. They might even be you. These terrifying initial feelings and thoughts are near universal. 

If these folks don’t understand drunk driving laws in Minnesota, their DWI cases can seem open-and-shut. Hopeless. Perhaps they took the breathalyzer or the blood test and the results showed their blood alcohol concentration as over the legal limit. Maybe their pupils refused to dilate during the field sobriety test. They feel guilty for drinking and driving and ready to accept the consequences the moment police officer tightens the handcuffs. People come to our Minneapolis criminal law office with the assumption that conviction is inevitable. But it’s not. There is hope.

We have earned the SuperLawyers designation by Thomson Reuters. That means our three attorneys are really good at what we do. The attorneys at Gerald Miller and Associates are highly-respected and sought-after in our field of practice. That includes complex DWI law as well as criminal law and traffic violations. 

We also care. Our attorneys love to see their clients’ facial expressions change from resigned to determined when they learn that a conviction is far from the only option on the table. Let’s review some things – and book a free consultation with us right away. 

Field Sobriety Tests – Don’t Do Them 

You should always refuse a field sobriety test. Why? 

Minnesota has an implied consent law on the books. Under the law’s provisions, motorists pulled over on suspicion of a DWI can politely refuse to participate in field sobriety tests. They also have the right to ask to speak to a lawyer. They have a right to that before undergoing any tests that may or may not determine if they are driving drunk. 

Field sobriety tests include:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus, or an involuntary jerking of the eyeball that occurs as the eyes gaze to one side;
  • The walk-and-turn, where the motorist is asked to take nine steps touching heel to toe and in a straight line;
  • The one-leg stand test, where the person is told to stand with one leg about six inches off the ground and count beginning with one thousand one for thirty seconds;
  • The portable hand-held breath test that can be administered on the side of the road.

Field sobriety tests give an arresting officer probable cause to justify a DWI arrest. That being said, you are allowed under the law to politely decline participation in any and all field sobriety tests. Minnesota’s implied consent law requires motorists to submit to a formal breath test at the police station, but again, that requirement does not extend to field sobriety tests on the side of the road.

No matter how intimidated and nervous you are – or how certain you are about your ability to pass  – decline any and all field sobriety tests.

Declining the tests is basically all you should say during the entire traffic stop. If you agreed to the test, don’t fret. We can still help.

BAC Tests Can Be Wrong 

DWI breathalyzer tests aren’t foolproof. They are prone to errors. That could positively affect your case. The instrument can malfunction, or the police might administer the test incorrectly. Even your diet, your health, and environmental factors at the time of your arrest can affect your BAC reading and make it appear higher than it really is. It can be the difference between a BAC under 0.08. That puts you in the clear. A higher BAC gets you in trouble.

There is Always Hope 

If you read nothing else, read this: Blowing over .08% or failing a field sobriety test is by no means a conviction guarantee.

Even if you refused those tests and gave an independent blood sample that clocked in over the legal limit, there is still a chance to have your case thrown out. One of the most common ways to beat a DWI charge in court is by proving the police who arrested you neglected to follow procedure or violated your rights as a citizen.

If you want to avoid that DWI charge on your record, you need a Gerald Miller Law Firm attorney who knows the law front to back. We can spot a police violation from a mile away. Below are just a few examples of possible violations of police procedure. Any could get a case dismissed. 

Illegal Stops: Do you know why the police officer pulled you over?

You felt scared when you saw the police lights in your mirror. But did you feel surprised, too? If yes, then the police may have stopped you illegally. According to the law, a police officer can only pull you over if he or she has “reasonable suspicion” that a crime or traffic violation has been committed – or that the person being stopped is hiding evidence of a crime. Reasonable suspicion is a standard that allows police officers to stop any individual that their training and experience has given them reason to believe may have committed a crime.

If you hit a curb while driving or if you forgot to turn your headlights on before hitting the road, this may not apply to you. The officer would likely say his or her prior experience points to these as telltale signs of drunk or reckless driving. But if you’re wracking your brain trying to think of a good reason why the police officer pulled you over, you may have a case. 

Illegal Searches: Did the police officer search your car for no reason? 

Being pulled over while intoxicated is a double-edged sword. You know you’ve been drinking so that feeling of guilt may make it harder to push back against a police officer’s demands. But if something seems off, trust your instincts. If a police officer has reason to believe your car has evidence that would point to illegal activity, he or she has “probable cause” to search your car. But if you believe the cop had no reason whatsoever to do such a thing, your DWI charge may not hold up in court. 

As with reasonable suspicion, the officer must be able to articulate how probable cause was established. If they cannot articulate why their prior training and experience led them to believe you were committing a crime or had already done so, or if they cannot articulate why they searched your car for further evidence, then your DWI case may be thrown out altogether. Bottom line? A police officer must be able to defend his or her actions leading up to and during your arrest. If they can’t, then a good attorney can convincingly argue their stop and search was not legal.

Illegal Arrests:How did the police officer establish you drank over the legal limit? 

In order to make an arrest for a DWI charge, the police officer must establish probable cause that you’ve been driving under the influence. This can introduce several challenges for the police officer when your case is brought to court. In order to establish probable cause warranting an arrest, the officer may administer a field sobriety test or a breath test, or both. As we’ll discuss below, it is your right to refuse both of these tests—and if you do, the police can only establish probable cause based on personal observation. 

At this stage, the officer may violate one of several procedures. He may also violate your rights as a citizen. Two rights in particular are at play when a police man pulls you over on a suspicion of drunk driving.

  • First, before any test is administered, you have a right to call an attorney. If you asked to speak to an attorney before being administered any test, a police officer has violated this right, and you have a case to make in court.
  • Second, it is your right to refuse to take the breath test. This is known as your right to an independent blood test. Many drivers are unaware that you can refuse this test and take a blood test instead prior to any arrest. If the officer forces you to take a breath test or refuses your right to an independent blood test, he has absolutely violated your right, and this could have big consequences for your DWI charge.

Even if you took the tests, there are still several pitfalls that must be avoided by your police officer. Did they administer that test correctly? An experienced attorney at your side looking over your file can help you clearly and quickly establish whether police procedures weren’t followed and your rights have been violated. 

Failure to Give Miranda Warnings: Did the police officer read you your rights? 

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and may be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney…” Do those words sound familiar? If they don’t, the police officer may have failed to read you your Miranda Rights. Once you are in police custody, the police officer is required by law to read these rights to you. If he or she fails to do so, nothing you say or do post-arrest can be used against you in court. In some cases, with the help of a knowledgeable attorney, your case may be dropped altogether. 

Inconsistent Evidence and Misleading Police Statements: Did the officer who arrested you make a mistake—or worse? 

Once an arrest has been made, your police officer is required to file a report outlining the evidence against you. It often includes the results of your field sobriety test and breath test, as well as a general narrative of the entire event, from the initial stop to the drive to the police station. These statements include the officer’s rationale for pulling you over and, if applicable, why they searched your car. It’s painful to read the officer’s account of your behavior during the incident. Nobody likes to hear that their speech sounded slurred or that they couldn’t remember obvious details that an officer might ask. It all counts as “evidence” in the case against you. However, recollections are often flawed. People make mistakes. That includes police officers, too.

If you have reason to believe the police statement pertaining to your case includes inconsistent evidence, your attorney can build a strong case in your defense. Were there witnesses that could confirm the statement was misleading or false? Do you have any other evidence that directly contradicts the officer’s report? If you don’t have concrete evidence yet clearly remember the officer, for instance, did not administer a test that he claims to have done in the report, then you can still be your own witness. Are you an upstanding citizen with no record of criminal history? The judge may just rule in your favor.

Inconsistent evidence is one thing—but there have been numerous reports over the years that police officers have falsified or provided misleading statements. This is a more sinister possibility to your case, but nonetheless a possibility. If you feel you have been framed or misrepresented in a DWI charge, having an attorney by your side is absolutely crucial. If your attorney can prove a police officer filed a false report, not only will your case be thrown out, but the officer may be charged with a misdemeanor under Minnesota law. Talk about redemption!

Don’t Resign Yourself to a DWI Conviction—Talk to an Attorney Today

Being arrested and charged with a crime is scary stuff. But when it comes to something as serious as a DWI charge, you shouldn’t just have to lie down and accept that your fate is sealed. In 40 years of practice, we have successfully pushed for countless drunk driving cases thrown out on behalf of our clients. If you have reason to believe a police officer may have broken the rules or violated your rights, your chances couldn’t be better for a full exoneration.

Even if a case cannot be dismissed, your charges can be reduced. That’s a positive outcome. First-time offenders have a stronger chance to receive lower charges than a repeat offender. Some prosecutors will consider reducing a DWI charge to careless driving if the defendant has no prior offenses, a BAC under 0.10 and a good driving record. It helps if you were cooperative at the time of your arrest and if you followed the instructions of the court prior to your hearing. Most suspects have to undergo an alcohol assessment and/or DWI classes.

Prosecutors have an interest in convicting people of drunk driving to the fullest extent of the law. They hope to encourage others to stay sober on the road. Don’t let that stop you from trying. A solution that makes the process easier for you is possible. That’s why hiring a solid legal team is important to the outcome of your case. 

This charge is not the end of your life. It’s not the end of your career. It’s not the end of your family. Speak to one of our attorneys today. We will give you peace of mind that your case is far from closed.

And, we will fight for you. 

About Gerald Miller Law

A drunk driving citation in Minnesota is known as a DWI. That stands for driving while impaired. Many states refer to the charge as a DUI, short for diving under the influence.

Regardless of what authorities call it, a police officer can arrest someone on suspicion of DWI even if he or she hasn’t been drinking. In Minnesota, “impaired” can be applied to a person who is taking legal prescription drugs or even someone who is overly tired. It’s all up to the discretion of the arresting officer.

Sound like you or someone you know? Contact the experienced Minnesota DWI attorneys Gerald Miller, P.A. Our expert team will look at your case and determine the best course of action. We will guide you through the process, working toward a positive outcome no matter the circumstances of the arrest.

We are often asked, “Should I contest this case?” Yes. You should, absolutely, positively 100 percent of the time. Every arrest is different; few are open and shut cases. We look at every aspect of the case, from time of the arrest to the officer’s actions to the accuracy of your Breathalyzer test. There is always hope.

What makes Gerald Miller different from other Minnesota criminal defense lawyers?

The Minneapolis lawyers at Gerald Miller handle all aspects of criminal law across the Twin Cities and statewide – we can defend you on traffic citations, drug charges, theft, weapons charges, probation and parole violations and more – but we have focused on DWIs for decades. A DWI affects your driving ability, your finances and your professional reputation. Don’t let one mistake hinder a promising future.

Call the attorneys at Gerald Miller today at 612-440-4610. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to give you some answers, a little hope and plenty of well-deserved peace of mind.

You can email us here. We can also be reached on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram. 

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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