Defending against charges of drunk driving often begins with examining the driver’s first encounter with police. Officers must have a valid reason for stopping a vehicle. Typically, this includes driver actions such as driving too slowly, running a stop sign or swerving between lanes. Observing such violations, police may initiate a traffic stop that may consequently lead to sobriety tests and DWI charges.
One man took his DWI conviction to a Minnesota appeals court because he believed police violated his constitutional rights by pulling him over without justification. The officer testified the man’s vehicle crossed the fog line. The driver, however, said the officer’s dashcam video showed that his tires barely touched the fog line (later on appeal he conceded that the video clearly captured the vehicle’s tires crossing the fog line but amazingly that was not a factual finding made by the lower court). He asked the trial court to dismiss his case but the judged denied his request saying that merely touching the fog line violated the statute and found him guilty.
Despite dashcam video footage that showed the vehicle’s tires crossing the fog line, the district court failed to use this fact as a basis for upholding the traffic stop. This factual issue was not formally addressed by the state during appeal. As a result, the appeals court focused its attention solely on the district court’s findings that the vehicle’s tires merely touched the fog line The judges’ startling decision upheld the lower court’s ruling that even grazing the inside of the fog line indicates the vehicle has left the lane. Therefore, the appeals court confirmed that police did not violate the driver’s constitutional rights and had reasonable grounds for pulling him over.
The judges believe their ruling sets a precedent. It may affect future rulings, making it easier to convict those suspected of drunk driving in Minnesota. In other words, fighting DWI charges in this state may now be even more complicated.