Driving another person’s car – with a DWI on your record

Please!

If you have had a DWI in the last ten years, don’t be driving someone else’s car. All you have to do is get stopped again for another DWI and have a reading of .20 or more, and the city is going to seize that vehicle. Having a child in the car who is under 18 would also do the trick. They call that an aggravating factor.

I got another call this Saturday – yesterday – from a guy who wanted to know how to get his friend’s car back from the police. He had been arrested the night before and scored .20. Since it was his second offense in ten years, they took the car.

Here’s the deal. If you have had a DWI in the past ten years and you get stopped again with an aggravating factor, they take the car. Being over .20 is an aggravating factor, and so is having a child in the car who is under 18. Also, should you have two DWIs on your record within the past ten years, and then you get stopped for a third in ten years, they take the car. They don’t care who’s car it is – they just take it.

So I get these calls asking how do I get the car back. It was my mother’s car, my wife’s car, my bosses car, my brother’s car or my boyfriend’s car. The answer is that the car is probably gone for good. If there’s a loan against the car, the lender can get it and sell it at auction as if they had repo’d it for non-payment. In addition, if the police made a big mistake or if the car, owned by someone else, was being driven without their permission, you may be able to get it back by filing a petition with the district court.

That petition is in effect a lawsuit against the state and against the agency which seized the car. It’s not cheap, it’s not easy, and it’s very hard to prevail. I usually refer these to a friend of mine, because I don’t like to take money from people and then lose.

I guess this is a rant. I just can’t believe how surprised people are when this happens. Can’t figure out where they’ve been. None of this is new.

Restless nights

Friday night this past weekend and again on Saturday night, between 12:30 am and about 3:30 am, I was awakened by calls from individuals who had been arrested for DWI and who were in the custody of police. Before being required to take a breath, blood or urine test, a suspect has a right to speak with a lawyer by telephone. In both cases, the arrested person had called someone else who looked up my DWI web site and then passed my cell number back to the person under arrest.

Often when I receive these calls I find that the person on the other end of the phone is seriously considering refusing to take the test that is being offered. This is a serious mistake, since a test refusal is a separate crime in itself. Besides being a crime, the test refusal carries with it a one year revocation of one’s driving license. So far I have always recommended that the person take the test. It is hard for me to imagine a situation when I would not recommend that.

When I receive one of these calls, I try to find out as much information about the arrest as I can. Sometimes this can involve staying on the phone with the “suspect” for as long as half an hour or so. The result is that often I know things about what went on that the police report may not include and that the potential client may not remember.

Usually after receiving one of these calls I can’t sleep for about an hour, maybe longer. I’ll admit that having this two nights in a row was a tad hard on me. If this seems a little disjointed, that’s probably why.

Another Drunk Driving Crack Down

Today’s Star Tribune reports – as is often the case right before a major holiday – that starting today and continuing through the month of July there will be extra law enforcement on the roads and streets of this State specifically looking for drunk drivers. I recommend that you take a look at the full story. There’s information there about a new “safe and sober” web site that the state has put up as well.

Burnt Out License Plate Light and DWI

Recently I had a case where the reason the officer stopped my client was a non functioning license plate light. The only problem was that the light in fact was working, and there was a witness to that fact besides my client.

I got excited. I had gotten arrests thrown out for similar reasons in the past. I thought this one would be easy. Naturally, I dug into the case law looking for the case that would say I win. To my surprise, what I found was the opposite. This past January the Minnesota Court of Appeals said, if I was reading it right, that if the officer THOUGHT that the light was out, the stop was valid even if the light was actually working. What kind of deal was that?

It seems the police can stop you for a perceived equipment violation, even if they are mistaken about whatever it is. Once they have you stopped, if they find you have been drinking, you get a DWI ticket; and it makes no difference if you can show later that your equipment was fine. The bottom line is that there is no sure way to not get caught if you are drinking and driving. Being careful isn’t good enough. There’s no way you can possibly control all the factors that might lead to a stop and an arrest. The only answer is to just not do it.

I have suspected for some time that there are officers who stop drivers because they just have a feeling that something is not right. Then later they make up something to legally justify the stop. On one hand I suppose you could say that these are good officers and a value to the community. But I really think that they should be required to stay truthful and not just be making up stories.

"Click It or Ticket" May Mobilization: May 19 to June 1st

This holiday weekend and for the rest of this week, there is once again enhanced law enforcement on our streets and highways in Minnesota. This time the emphasis is “designated nighttime seat belt enforcement periods to prevent unbelted deaths …”

This “Click It or Ticket” mobilization program is one of a series of “Safe and Sober” mobilizations which has been in progress for the last few years. It is specifically aimed at looking for belt non-use and for improper child seat use.

The bottom line, however, is that for the next few days there will be extra law enforcement on the roads. Whenever this happens I know it’s time for me to stay close to my phone. My office phone is forwarded to my cell, and I’ll be answering that all this weekend. I just got back from a nice trip to Hollywood, so I don’t‘ feel bad about staying in town this weekend.

If you hear from someone who has just been stopped or arrested, you might want to do a quick review of the tips I have posted on my First Arrest First Aid page. I wrote up the materials on that page after receiving a call one night from another lawyer who had a client who had just been arrested. This other lawyer did no criminal defense work at all, and wanted to pick my brain about what to tell his client, who he had on the other line. Before that call I had assumed that there was no use writing that topic up on my site, because someone who has just been arrested would not have web access. Since then I have heard from several spouses and parents who have referred to the contents of that page over the phone when they were called by a family member who was in police custody.

With the onset of cell phone web access, I guess a person could access that page directly after being arrested. Nobody has reported to me that they have done that, however, at least not yet.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

I’ve been asked if my office would be open today. The answer to that is yes. I’ve been invited to a corn beef and cabbage lunch, but I have not been able to make it. My office phone, which I had forwarded to my cell phone, started ringing at about 7 am this morning. One caller after another described various scenarios involving being arrested for DWI over this past weekend. I wrote earlier about how a reporter from New Brighton had tipped me off that the police would be out in force this past weekend and today. I guess she got that right. This morning I had so much trouble getting off the phone that I almost missed my first appointment at the office.

So I’m wearing a bright green tie today, but that might be about as far as I take the St. Patrick’s Day thing; except to warn you all that tonight is not the time to take any chances with drinking and driving. No night is, but lots of extra officers will be on duty this evening. What I believe I have learned over the years about nights like this is that some of those officers would rather be partying themselves, or they may be missing an event that they were invited to. A bit of resentment about that can lead them to want to be harsher than they might ordinarily be on an ordinary night. Definitely think in terms of a cab or designated driver.

Based upon how my own phone calls seem to indicate that the party has already started, and considering the snowy weather forecast for the Twin Cities, I fear that by tomorrow morning I will be looking at a local news report of at least one fatal, alcohol-related accident. Let’s pray that no such event takes place.

Getting a Pardon from the Queen of England for a Minnesota DWI

Well, maybe not exactly the Queen; but at least the government of Canada.

I’m no expert in international law, and my license to practice law only extends to the borders of Minnesota. However, I keep hearing stories about people who have received DWIs in Minnesota and who then have trouble getting across the Canadian border. It seems to be especially difficult if one wants to bring a gun and go hunting.

Apparently a DWI which we classify as a misdemeanor is considered to be a felony in Canada. Canadian law will keep a person from being able to enter that country for at least five years from the date of the conviction. After the five years expires, a Minnesotan can apply for “criminal rehabilitation” through a detailed and difficult process that looks to me to be a lot like applying for a pardon. One basically has to prove that probation is over, all fines are paid, all sentences served, and there’s a good reason to believe it won’t ever happen again. Hiring a Canadian lawyer for help with this would probably be a good idea. I understand there are law offices in Winnipeg that do quite a business in this sort of thing.

For a $200 fee the folks at the border station can issue a temporary pass even though the DWI is on the record, but this is up to the border officer’s discretion. There’s no way to know until you get there whether or not you will be allowed to cross the border. Again, I have heard stories about the border agent saying that entering the country was OK, but not with a gun; and don’t plan on hunting or carrying a weapon while on the Canadian side of the border. This can be really bad news for someone who pays big bucks for a fancy hunting trip deep into the Canadian wilderness.

The fact that this problem is out there is yet another reason why nobody in this state should go anywhere near a courthouse without a lawyer. If there is a DWI charge, but it is reduced to Careless Driving, crossing the border isn’t a problem. It’s only if it’s a straight DWI and not reduced to a lesser charge that this problem might arise. So if you should happen to get a DWI in Minnesota, and you are a person who regularly travels to Canada for work or recreation, make sure your lawyer knows about that part of your life – and of course make sure you have a lawyer.