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.

Constitution Day

I’m taking a couple of days off, and I’ve headed my favorite direction: north. With my wife, my dogs and my camper.

We have the camper set up at the Grand Marais Municipal Campground. This morning was cold and rainy, but now it has cleared and the sun is out. We would usually make coffee – lots of coffee – and sit by the camper first thing in the morning. But this morning, in honor of the misty weather, we headed into town and went to a coffee shop called the Java Moose. The fellowship and the quality coffee resulted in a very rewarding morning. Today’s Duluth News Tribune had already arrived, and I found an interesting article about Constitution Day. It’s this Monday, September 17, 2007.

It seems that on September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention finished their work on a draft of a Constitution for these United States. It’s not a holiday in the sense that there’s no mail or the courthouses are closed, but it does seem to be observed by several federal agencies – such as the National Archive that has the job of preserving the original document making up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

It is often my job to explain to a client who has been arrested for DWI what his or her constitutional rights are. I can run through them pretty fast. In fact, I think I can summarize them sometimes without stopping to take a breath. There’s the right to remain silent – which is why the questioning possible terrorists is such a hot issue. There’s the right to be presumed innocent; and the right to a jury, where all the jurors have to agree or one is considered not guilty.

One of my favorites is the right to confront and cross examine witnesses. When I get to this one I might sometimes stop, because my client has heard it before and it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. I may take a moment to mention that prior to our constitution, in places like England, is was a rather common practice to hang someone or lob off their head after a trial that was based on written statements. For just a moment, I invite you to think about what that experience would be like.

I found that article in the Duluth paper to be educational and inspiring. Frankly, I had never heard of the observance of Constitution Day before. How could that be I am asking myself, particularly considering the business that I am in. I admit to having no excuse. I did, however, just run a search on the subject at the web site of the paper I usually read, the Star Tribune. So far there’s nothing there. I hope they at least mention it this Monday.