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Driver’s Behavior Matters with DWI Cases

Typical DWI scenarios include a driver who operates a vehicle erratically or fails field sobriety tests (FSTs) and/or blood alcohol concentration (BAC). However, a driver’s behavior during a traffic stop often plays a major role in a DWI case and can lead to conviction even when none of this evidence is available.

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota in Minnesota v. Yackel, 2016 WL 687339 (Unreported 2016) provides a compelling example of conduct to avoid when facing the prospect of a DWI arrest. Although it is not a reported decision, the case is interesting because it reveals what not to do if you are stopped for DWI.

Officer and Witness Testimonies Critical Evidence in DWI Case

The officer pulled over a vehicle after receiving a report of an intoxicated woman in the driver’s seat of a white vehicle, preparing to pull away from a bar.

The officer noticed the woman sitting in the driver’s seat and reaching her arm around the door in an attempt to use a key to silence the alarm. A passenger was apparently standing by the vehicle waiting to be let inside.

After he approached and spoke to her through the window of the vehicle, the officer noticed the driver appeared disheveled and had likely been crying. The officer allegedly observed bloodshot, watery eyes, the smell of alcohol emanating from the motorist, and slurred speech.

When the officer asked the motorist for identification, the driver’s behavior was argumentative. She told the officer several times to leave her alone. After struggling to find her driver’s license in her purse, she dumped the contents of the bag on the ground.

The passenger waiting to climb into the vehicle told the officer that the driver had agreed to give him a ride home. The officer observed that the motorist continued to flail her arms and argue when stepping out of her vehicle. The citizen witness also indicated that the driver’s behavior indicated she was intoxicated.

Court Upholds DWI Conviction Based on Driver’s Behavior Alone

The trial court granted a summary judgment motion indicating that the evidence was sufficient to support a fourth-degree DWI conviction, and the decision was upheld on appeal.

The Court of Appeals noted a litany of factual evidence that collectively was sufficient to support the conviction of DWI:

  • Testimony of both the officer and citizen witness that the accused appeared intoxicated
  • Motorist’s admission to drinking an alcoholic drink a short time before the arrest
  • Officer observations of  intoxication (e.g. slurred speech, red & watery eyes, odor of alcohol emanating from the accused, and lack of coordination)

The accused responded by arguing that the listed evidence was circumstantial, so a more demanding standard of review was appropriate. The court noted the standard of review for circumstantial evidence involves two prongs:

  1. Identification of the circumstances provided
  2. Independent examination of the reasonableness of the inferences to be drawn from these circumstances to determine whether they are consistent with any rational conclusion other than guilt

The court indicated that this higher standard of review was not appropriate because the evidence was “direct evidence”. The court clarified that the term “direct evidence” refers to evidence derived from personal observation or knowledge without reliance on inference or presumption.

The court concluded that the jury relied on the testimony of the officer and citizen witness that the accused was drunk based on the witnesses direct observation of the accused’s conduct.

This stop was handled so poorly by the accused that the officer did not even feel the need to conduct field sobriety tests and/or breath testing to support the DWI charge. The accused engaged in a litany of mistakes, including yelling at the officer. This was compounded by dumping out her purse on the ground which constitutes somewhat abnormal behavior.

Remember to Mind Your Manners If Pulled Over After Drinking Alcohol

While motorists can protect themselves by asserting their right not to answer questions about their activities and refusing field sobriety testing, this should be done in a courteous manner. The goal is not to extend the interaction or give the officer longer to observe the motorist’s condition and demeanor.

The odor of alcohol on a driver’s breath or other physical signs of intoxication are more noticeable if a driver’s behavior becomes belligerent, like by engaging in verbal combat with the officer.

If you are pulled over by an officer after you have consumed alcohol, the better practice is to politely assert your rights and ask if you are free to leave.

Although the officer might refuse to let you drive away, the officer’s indication that you cannot leave can trigger additional rights.

Seek Legal Counsel Immediately

If you have been arrested for DWI, we invite you to speak to a Minnesota DWI Lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. The sooner you contact us the sooner we can start protecting your rights.

Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.

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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