In a decision posted by the Clerk of Appellate Courts last week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned one of my client’s DWI convictions. With about a 4% national success rate for criminal appeals nationwide (According to CBS Minnesota), we are thrilled about this victory.
In 2014, the State charged my client with two counts of DWI–one for driving while impaired, the other for having a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.08 within two hours of driving. The charges arose from a single-car accident in which my client’s vehicle slid off an exit ramp during a blizzard. My client’s roommates picked up my client from the accident site and brought him home. While at home, they all decided to take shots of whiskey. My client then called a tow truck company and requested the serviceman meet him at the accident site.
One of my client’s roommates drove my client back to his car where my client met the tow truck driver. The serviceman started pulling my client’s car out of the ditch when law enforcement arrived on scene. Long story short, my client admitted to drinking before and after the accident, and the police arrested him for DWI. The Minnesota State Patrol tested his blood alcohol concentration using a chemical breath test, and the results yielded over 0.08.
My client refused all plea bargains and demanded a jury trial (something I wish more citizens accused would do). At trial, my client argued the inclement weather caused the traffic accident–not alcohol-induced impairment. He also argued his blood alcohol content crested over 0.08 because of the whiskey shots he drank at home after the accident.
These arguments did not persuade the jury, as the members returned verdicts of guilty on both DWI counts. At sentencing, the district court convicted my client of both counts and sentenced him accordingly.
In our brief, and during oral arguments, we advanced two arguments. First, we urged the court to vacate the convictions and order a new trial on the basis that the State’s reliance on circumstantial evidence was fatal. Specifically, according to Minnesota law, a conviction can stand on circumstantial evidence only if there is no other rational explanation except the fact that the defendant is guilty. In this case, my client offered two perfectly rational explanations of why the traffic accident happened and why his blood alcohol concentration tested over 0.08.
Second, we argued the district court erroneously convicted my client of both DWI charges. According to Minnesota law, a person cannot be twice convicted of the same offense based on the same act. In this case, the district court convicted my client of both DWI charges, which arose from the same act.
In the first part of its decision, the court of appeals rejected our first argument. The court essentially decided that the only rational inference to be drawn from the circumstances proved was that my client drove while under the influence of alcohol.
In the second part of its decision, the court of appeals granted our request to vacate on of my client’s DWI convictions. Specifically, the court of appeals held that the district court erred as a matter of law in convicting my client of both DWI charges. The court remanded the case to district court with orders to vacate one of the convictions. In other words, one of my client’s DWI convictions must be cleared as a result of this appeal.
Check out the full decision here and stay tuned. We’re anxiously awaiting a decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court on a separate appeal.