Four DWI Cases Granted Review by Minnesota Supreme Court

In less than six months after State v. Brooks, the Minnesota Supreme Court has granted petition for review in FOUR unpublished DWI cases to be decided in light of Brooks and McNeely.

The first three cases are Isaacson, Moen, and Manska, which were accepted for review by the Minnesota Supreme Court, but stayed pending the Court’s pending decision in Bernard, because all three of these cases directly challenge the constitutionality of Minnesota’s refusal law. The results will no doubt be dramatic for refusal cases, but also for cases involving Minnesota’s Implied Consent Advisory itself—which is nearly every DWI in the state of Minnesota.

In the fourth case, State v. Lindquist, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted review for both the Defendant’s appeal and on the State’s cross-appeal. The dual grounds for accepting this case may be telling, especially because the State’s cross-appeal asks that the Supreme Court adopt a “Good Faith Exception” to the warrant requirement—the route advocated by Justice Stras in his concurring opinion in Brooks.

Check back here later this week where we will discuss the possible impact of these cases—both in the present and in the future. With four Brooks-related cases at the Minnesota Supreme Court after just six months, expect big changes in Minnesota’s DWI laws in the near future.   

Dan Koewler Selected to the Rising Star List By Super Lawyers Magazine

Ramsay Law Firm is proud to announce that Dan Koewler was recently selected to the 2014 Minnesota "Rising Star" list maintained by Super Lawyers. Each year, no more than 2.5% of the lawyers in the State of Minnesota are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor.

Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters Business, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.

The Super Lawyers lists are published nationwide in Super Lawyers Magazines and in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers across the country. For more information about Super Lawyers, visit



Supreme Court Upholds Integrity of the Warrant Requirement

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its long-awaited decision regarding the warrantless search of cell phones by law enforcement. In the decision of Riley v. California, an effectively unanimous Court concluded that there is no good reason to create yet another exception to the already exception-ridden Fourth Amendment, and held that in the typical case law enforcement must obtain a warrant before searching an arrested suspect's cell phone.

This case presented SCOTUS with an "opportunity" to further water down the Fourth Amendment, in the face of the claims by prosecutors that cell phones present unique obstacles and need to be viewed differently than other types of searches. SCOTUS shot that argument down, just as they shot the same argument down in Missouri v. McNeely, declining this opportunity to erode the Fourth Amendment's protections.

Specifically, this case dealt with one particular exception to the warrant requirement - "search incident to arrest." In refusing to extend the scope of that exception to warrantless cell phone searches, SCOTUS made it just as clear that we will not see this exception extending to warrantless DWI searches either (an argument that is still raised by prosecutors in Minnesota to this day).

This case is interesting, and worth a read, as it explores the privacy issues that arise from a population that stores a great deal of private information "in the cloud," and accessible from a variety of locations, instead of the more traditional and antiquated methods of storing files in a desk drawer or file cabinet.

The opinion is full of well-written insights into our nation's historical respect for liberty, and I'm not going to cite to all of them. But we'll leave you with this thought, taken from the Riley opinion: "Our holding, of course, is not that the information on a cell phone is immune from search; it is instead that a warrant is generally required before such a search, even when a cell phone is seized incident to arrest. Our cases have historically recognized that the warrant requirement is 'an important working part of our machinery of government,' not merely 'an inconvenience to be somehow 'weighed' against the claims of police efficiency.'"

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules "Necessity" Defense Does Not Apply to DWI

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Axelberg v. Commission of Public Safety. In a 4-3 decision, the Court concluded that Minnesota's Commissioner of Public Safety has the absolute authority to revoke the driver's license of an intoxicated victim of domestic abuse if she (or he) tries to flee (or even hide from) their attacker in a motor vehicle.

The facts of the Axelberg case are sordid, and we laid them out for our readers when the Supreme Court accepted review of this case, but the case can be effectively summarized this way: Axelberg, who had been drinking, was assaulted by her husband at a remote location where they were vacationing. Axelberg, without a cell phone, eventually locked herself in her car to avoid her husband's assault. After he punched the windshield hard enough to break it, she started the vehicle and fled to a nearby resort, driving less than a mile. Axelberg's husband followed her on foot, and was only prevented from further assaulting Axelberg when police were called to the resort.

Axelberg's husband was arrested and taken into custody . . . and the Commissioner of Public Safety revoked Axelberg's driver's license due to the fact that her alcohol concentration was over the legal limit. The Minnesota Attorney General's Office appeared in Court, and argued that it not only had the right to revoke Axelberg's driver's license, but also that Axelberg did not even have the right to explain why she drove while over the legal limit, or raise the ancient, common law defense of "necessity."

Four justices from the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the government attorneys, and concluded that Axelberg was precluded from even arguing that her flight to safety (for 9/10 of a mile along a deserted rural road) was permissible under Minnesota's Implied Consent law. Effectively, the Court concluded that because the Implied Consent law does not explicitly permit intoxicated drivers to flee from domestic assault as a last resort, the defense is entirely unavailable no matter how severe the situation. Today, Axelberg not only lost her license as a result of her decision to hide from her attacker, but this license revocation is treated exactly like a conviction for DWI for the purposes of enhancing future offenses.

The decision in Axelberg prompted three strongly worded dissents from three justices. One of the dissents, authored by Justice Lillehaug, wasted no time pointing out that the Commissioner of Public Safety, responsible for punishing Axelberg for her decision to flee from domestic abuse, has the statutory responsibility to promote, "the highest attainable standards of . . . justice for crime victims" and is actually expected, by statute, to advocate for the rights of victims of domestic violence. The dissent then pointed out that "it is hard to imagine that the Legislature intended that the judiciary revoke the license of victims who drive only to escape domestic violence."

A second dissent, authored by Justice Wright, underscored just how unreasonable the result in Axelberg really is, emphasizing that the role of our judicial system has always been to be fair, and that the defense of "necessity" has existed for centuries for just that reason - fairness in the application of our laws. Justice Wright then took the time to carefully outline the serious problems that our society continues to face when it comes to domestic violence - importantly pointing out how access to a vehicle should provide a level of independence and security to a battered woman . . . and not another shackle tying her to her abuser.

The final dissent, authored by Justice Page, neatly summarized the decision reached by the majority when it pointed out that, "By its decision, the court also discourages domestic abuse victims from even seeking refuge in a motor vehicle. Based on our case law, today's decision deprives many victims of domestic violence of the only available refuge." This dissent also highlighted a great deal of case law that would support the application of the "necessity" defense in an Implied Consent hearing.

The Axelberg case is a very troubling one, calling into question not just the problems our society continues to have with drunk drivers and domestic violence, but what role we expect our laws and our judges to fill in ordering that society. This includes questions about the role of our government attorneys, who pressed the Axelberg case all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Needless to say, as the authors of the amicus curiae brief that we filed in support of Axelberg, we are disappointed in the result reached in this case. Even more hard work was put into this case by Ryan Pacyga and his team, from the start of this case in Kanabec County all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The one question that needs to be answered now is this: does the Legislature have the political will to fix this situation and protect the rights of domestic abuse victims against an overly rigid set of DWI laws?


Breaking News: Minnesota Supreme Court to Determine Constitutionality of Minnesota's Test Refusal Law

The Minnesota Supreme Court just accepted review of the State v. Bernard case.  This means that we will soon have final word from our State's highest Court on whether it is constitutional to make it a crime for an individual to politely refuse to submit to a warrantless search. 


Warrantless searches are presumptively illegal, a fact that the Bernard decision addressed by crafting a new "inevitable warrant doctrine."


The appeal process for the Bernard case started when the government appealed a judge's ruling that the test refusal law is unconstitutional, meaning the timelines for this appeal are shorter than in a more typical case.  We can optimistically expect the Supreme Court to issue its decision by the end of this year.

Another Shot Fired Over the Constitutionality of Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law

Minnesota is one of very few states that make it a crime to refuse to submit to a DWI test - the vast majority of states simply impose a longer license revocation against drivers who refuse. Minnesota's rare and troubling practice - making refusal to submit to a warrantless search an independent crime - appears to be unconstitutional. That appearance is causing a major conflict between defense attorneys and prosecutors, between prosecutors and cops . . . and also between Minnesota judges and other Minnesota judges.

Is it constitutional to put someone in jail for refusing to submit to a warrantless search and seizure? This is the question that has plagued Minnesota courts for over a decade, and it is a question that is quickly coming to a head. The Minnesota Supreme Court is in a position to answer that question once and for all later this year.

But in the meantime, Minnesota's DWI law is in a state of pure turmoil. In the past year, many district court judges around the state have concluded that the crime of test refusal is unconstitutional. After judges started declaring the law unconstitutional, the Minnesota Court of Appeals stepped in and in the case of State v. Bernard, crafted a brand-new doctrine that appeared to make the crime of test refusal legal. This Bernard decision was famously ignored by at least one judge who was completely unpersuaded by the newly crafted "inevitable warrant" doctrine.

Today, the Court of Appeals issued another decision finding the test refusal law constitutional, in the unpublished case of State v. Mawolo. And while it was completely expected for the Court of Appeals to follow the logic of the recently issued Bernard case, what was completely unexpected was to see another judge step up and proclaim, in effect, "we are getting this wrong, and we need to fix it before it's too late."

That is a paraphrase from the dissent in the Mawolo case, where one member of the three judge panel made it clear that "the analysis in Bernard" was "flawed" because it "creates an exception that renders the Fourth Amendment meaningless . . ." I highly suggest reading the whole dissent - it is both scholarly and very much to-the-point.

This likely will not be the last judge to openly defy the holding in the Bernard decision, and with every new voice in opposition, the constitutional crises in Minnesota deepens.


Breaking News: Minnesota Supreme Court to Rule on Necessity Defense in DWI Cases This Wednesday

Last August, the Minnesota Supreme Court accepted several cases dealing with Minnesota's DWI laws. One such case was the Axelberg case, where the Court is being asked to decide if "necessity" is a valid defense to driving over the legal limit. That decision is coming out Wednesday.

We talked about the facts of the Axelberg case in a previous post, but just to recap, the driver in Axelberg was hiding and eventually fleeing from a highly physical domestic abuse situation in a rural area when she had her license revoked for driving with an alcohol concentration over the legal limit. Soon, the Minnesota Supreme Court will decide if drivers like Axelberg can raise the defense of "necessity" . . . or if there is never a situation where someone who is over the legal limit can enter (much less drive) a motor vehicle.

We submitted an amicus brief in the Axelberg case, on behalf of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, so we're watching this case even more closely than most. Stay tuned - we'll be posting soon with our thoughts on this very important case as soon as the decision is issued.


Governor Dayton Signs Extensive Expungement Bill

Today, Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a comprehensive new bill that is designed to make it much easier for people convicted of a crime to seal the record of their conviction, an action referred to as an "expungement."

Since approximately 2008, expungements in Minnesota have been difficult to come by: in the case of State v. S.L.H., the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that our judges lack the authority to expunge criminal records held by organizations like the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in all but the most extreme cases. The S.L.H. case effectively meant that obtaining an expungement for a criminal conviction was still possible . . .but that even with an expungement your conviction would still show up on a background check, making it a largely useless remedy for most of the population.

Useless, that is, until the legislature stepped into the mix (at the prompting of some very tireless and zealous defense attorneys), passing a bill that grants courts the broad authority that was previously denied to them, and providing those convicted of crimes ranging from petty misdemeanors all the way up to a felony the opportunity to earn the right to clear their name.

This bill does not guarantee anyone convicted of a crime an expungement, but what it does guarantee is that the doors to the courthouse are again open. Now, Minnesota judges have regained the authority to provide a fair remedy to people who are still being haunted by mistakes in their past, long after they've already paid their debt to society. Minnesota might not always get things right, but today they certainly did.


State of Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law In Flux

Things are getting even more interesting when it comes to Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law. Apparently even the State's own prosecutors are troubled by the recent decision finding Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law constitutional, and they're asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review it.

If you need some quick history: even before the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Missouri v. McNeely, we explained how the decision could end up eliminating Minnesota's attempt to make refusal a crime. When the decision finally arrived, we immediately wondered if Minnesota's test refusal law was now unconstitutional. It was a good question, and it wasn't long until Minnesota judges began throwing out DWI refusal charges as unconstitutional.

Then, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued its decision in State v. Bernard, crafting a new "inevitable warrant" doctrine and upholding the constitutionality of the test refusal law. At least one judge refused to follow the Bernard decision, pointing out how it directly contradicted numerous other Supreme Court cases.

Which brings us to today: After the attorney in the Bernard case asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review (and overturn) the decision in Bernard, the State of Minnesota was given an opportunity to respond. On Tuesday, they did file their response . . . and nobody was more surprised than us when we discovered that the State is joining in the defense's request for review of the Bernard decision.

This makes it far, far more likely that the Bernard decision is going to see careful scrutiny from the Minnesota Supreme Court - all of the parties are in agreement that it needs to be looked at again. One thing is almost certain: we have not yet received that final word on whether or not charging someone with a crime for nothing more than refusing to submit to a warrantless search is actually constitutional.


SCOTUS Releases Navarette Decision Regarding Traffic Stops

Today the United State Supreme Court issued their decision in the case of Navarette v. California, dealing with the constitutionality of traffic stops based on anonymous tips. This is a tricky area of law - police need to be able to state a specific, reasonable basis for stopping a driver . . . but when it comes to traffic stops, that burden is very, very low. Speeding, driving on the fog line, and sometimes even just weaving within one lane of traffic are all examples of situations that can lead to a constitutional traffic stop.

But what happens when the officer sees no traffic infractions at all? What if the stop is based solely on the tip of an anonymous complainant? That was the question raised in the Navarette case, and the answer was . . . unhelpful. The Court refused to issue any bright line rules (specifically pointing out that anonymous 911 calls are not automatically considered reliable enough to support a traffic stop), but appeared to consider the nature of the alleged offense (the complainant was driven off the road by another vehicle), the time elapsed between the call and the incident, and the fact that the call was made through the 911 system (which makes it easier to track down callers who make false tips).

The real "holding" of the Navarette case is that traffic stops based upon anonymous 911 calls are not automatically unconstitutional . . . depending on the facts of the case.

Of note was the dissent authored by Justice Scalia, who in typical fashion ridiculed some of the logic used by the majority. It's worth reading the whole decision, but we'll leave you with this quote that nicely sums up our own opinions on the Navarette case:

Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving. I respectfully dissent.