Ethan Meaney of the DWI Guys at Meaney & Patrin scored an impressive reversal victory today at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The issue appealed concerned whether the arresting officer made an illegal entry into the Defendant’s home while investigating a possible DWI. The District Court had ruled against our client and he had given up hope of victory, but eventually he decided to appeal the decision after consulting with Ethan about the issue and chances of success. This turned out to be the right choice, as Ethan convinced the Court of Appeals to reverse the DWI conviction and remand it to the District Court. You can read the decision here: http://www.mncourts.gov/opinions/coa/current/OPa130506-021014.pdf.
The factual scenario was somewhat unique, although officers are always trying to push the envelope when it comes to privacy and individual rights. In this case, the investigating officer came to the Defendant’s address after finding a vehicle registered to him parked in the middle of a nearby intersection with nobody present. After knocking on the front door, the Defendant’s father answered the door and was unsure about whether the Defendant had come home yet that night. He told the officer he was not sure, and the officer asked the father if he would go check inside the house. After he left the front screen door, which closed behind him automatically, the officer entered the home and walked far enough inside to look down the stairway (about 6-10 feet inside the home). The officer claimed that the screen door was left open, which he assumed was a non-verbal invitation to come inside the house. The officer also testified it was cold outside with snow on the ground, leading him to assume that the father would have invited him inside. Plus, the officer testified that it was his “common practice” to step into a home in these situations.
The Hennepin County District Court ruled in favor of the State because the judge felt it was reasonable for the officer to assume that he had non-verbal consent to enter the home, but the Court of Appeals reversed that decision noting a lack of evidence in the record to show that the Defendant’s father gave the officer consent to enter the home. The District Court did not make a specific finding about whether the screen door was closed or open when the officer entered, and the officer did not testify about any specific verbal or non-verbal manifestation of consent from the Defendant’s father to authorize entry into the home.
This victory is just one example of how the DWI Guys can use constitutional issues and other procedural issues to challenge the State’s case. We continue to hold officers to their duty to uphold the constitution when they conduct their investigations, and to compel prosecutors to actually prove their cases against our clients. While major victories like this one are hard to come by, the seasoned strategies followed by the DWI Guys give you the best chance to eliminate or minimize the penalties and long-term effects of a DWI arrest.