Minnesota DUI and the right to counsel

You probably think it will never happen to you: You know your limit of how much to drink and drive. But statistics tell a different story. According to the Minnesota Office of Transport Safety, the following are key facts from 2011 concerning DWIs:

  • 368 people died in traffic crashes in Minnesota and 111 (30 percent) were crashes involving drunk drivers
  • 2,375 people suffered injuries in alcohol-related crashes
  • 29,257 motorists were arrested for DWIs (an average of 81 DWIs per day)
  • 76 percent of motorists arrested for DWI resulted in a criminal conviction for driving while impaired; this percentage will increase as outstanding cases are settled in courts
  • 12,103 (41 percent) of these violators had at least one prior DWI
  • 1,903 (7 percent) of DWIs were issued to drivers less than 21 years of age
  • One out of every seven licensed drivers in Minnesota has at least one DWI

According to the Star Tribune, in June 2009 a 49-year-old Minneapolis mother left her daughter's graduation party; according to a criminal complaint, the mother was driving a car just after midnight when she ran over a 48-year-old individual sitting at a bus shelter at a Minneapolis intersection.

The driver was charged with one count of criminal vehicular operation, which is a felony. The victim was hit so hard by the car that it knocked him out of his shoes. The driver was sitting on a bench at the scene when officers arrived. A Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) showed the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.19 and she admitted that she had been drinking at her daughter's graduation party.

The driver was sentenced to serve one year in the workhouse; a common outcry was that this penalty was too lenient.

The right to counsel prior to chemical testing for blood alcohol level

Given the rather shocking statistics and the penalties that can result, no one who has a drink and gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle can think it could never happen to them. It is vitally important to know that the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the Minnesota Constitution gives a motorist a limited right to consult an attorney within a reasonable time before deciding whether or not to submit to chemical testing for blood alcohol.

Accordingly, any person who is required to decide whether he or she will submit to a chemical test has the right to consult with a lawyer of his or her own choosing before making that decision, provided that such a consultation does not unreasonably delay the administration of the test. A person must be informed of this right, and the police officers must assist in its vindication. The right to counsel is considered vindicated if the person is provided with a telephone prior to testing and given a reasonable time to contact and talk with counsel. If counsel cannot be contacted within a reasonable time, the person may be required to make a decision regarding testing in the absence of counsel.

It should be noted that the right to counsel does not attach at the stage of a preliminary breath test.

Should you find yourself in such a situation, the advice of an attorney experienced in Minnesota DUI law is extremely important to help anyone who finds themselves in such situation to make the correct decision.