Thursday, April 12, 2012

Minnesota DWI - Physical Control (Explained)

Being a Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney for as long as I have, one of the most difficult concepts I've had to relate to far too many clients the notion of “physical control” as it relates to Drunk Driving cases.  In other words, the idea that someone could be charged or convicted of a Minnesota DWI for just sitting or lying in a motor vehicle.

Granted, this one can be a real head-scratcher --- you can get a DWI for not driving and/or "sleeping one off"?  Sadly, the answer is big fat YES!

What's Up With That?

Over the last several years, Minnesota Courts have given a very broad definition of “physical control” when it comes to DWI charging. As an example, in a January of  2010, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled, in the case of the State of Minnesota vs. Fleck, that it was proper for a jury to find Mr. Fleck guilty when  he was found asleep in his motor vehicle in the parking lot of his apartment complex.

In this case, when the cops got on the scene,  they found Mr. Fleck asleep behind the wheel of his vehicle with the driver’s side door open and the ignition keys in the center console of the vehicle between the driver and passenger seats.  As is often the case, with these sorts of matters, there is an assumption that, although law enforcement did not see the actual driving conduct, it’s clear that the individual actually drove to the location based on other circumstantial evidence. However, in Fleck, the officer’s had determined that Mr. Fleck had not recently driven his motor vehicle because the car was “cold to the touch”, the lights were not on, and it did not look as though the vehicle had been running. However, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that Mr. Fleck was in a position to exercise domain over his vehicle. In other words, without too much difficulty, the Court believed he  could have made his motor vehicle a source of danger on the roadways by awakening, in an intoxicated state, and then subsequently taking the keys from the console and starting the vehicle and driving off.

Isn't that ice to know --- that law enforcement can just "know" (ala the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report”) not just what you've done but also what you're going to do --- even before you do it?

Again, as an experienced Minnesota DWI Defense Lawyer, who has had to argue the concept of “physical control” many times throughout my career, this decision comes as little surprise. Nevertheless, this case is remarkable in the sense that there was actual evidence that the driver did NOT drive the motor vehicle to the location, but the Court still found “physical control”.

Now, does this mean that this result will always repeat itself --- that there is no hope?  Not necessarily.  As a matter of fact, often cases such as these can be negotiated (often at something less than a DWI) if you engage the services of a someone who knows what he's doing when it comes to criminal defense.  If you want answers for your legal dilemma - call The Rolloff Law Office today @ (612) 619-0262.  Just because you've been charged does not mean you'll be found guilty.  Believe it.

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