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Traffic Accident Equals a Misdemeanor Charge

Many traffic offenses are petty misdemeanors, which means they are NOT a crime.  A petty misdemeanor is punishable by only a fine up to $300 plus fees and surcharges.  Some examples are: speeding, running a stop sign, failing to move over for an emergency vehicle, making an illegal U-turn, and failing to signal a turn.  However, when the police officer determines that you “endangered person or property”, (s)he can check the so-titled box on the citation, which enhances the petty misdemeanor to a misdemeanor.  A misdemeanor is a crime, punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.  Causing an accident essentially guarantees that the officer will check this box and means that you are facing a more serious offense than a “simple” traffic offense.  If at all possible, you want to keep these types of offenses off of your driving record.

Forfeited Vehicle

If you get a DWI and total your car, YOU are entitled to the insurance proceeds, NOT the forfeiting agency.  The Court of Appeals recently affirmed the district court decision that only the property rights in the vehicle are subject to forfeiture.  Insurance proceeds are payments due under an insurance contract about a vehicle and are not a property interest in the vehicle.  Russell Eldon Briles v. 2013 GMC Terrain, ___ N.W.2d ___, A16-0768, 2018 WL 845974 (Minn. 2/14/2018)

DWI

Do you have to be driving to get a DWI?  No, you do not.

A DWI includes driving or “operating” a motor vehicle.  “Operating” a motor vehicle includes being “in physical control” of the vehicle.  The courts have held that “physical control” of the vehicle includes sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys within arm’s reach.  State v. Fleck.  As recently affirmed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, it also includes grabbing the steering wheel while someone else is driving. State v. Tchad Hu Henderson.  In fact, in the case where a woman was standing on the side of the road with a flat tire, the car was running and the keys were in the ignition, the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that physical control was present.  State v. Woodward.

Driving on Lane Marking

Appellant challenged both his conviction for DWI and driver’s license revocation, arguing the stop of the vehicle, based on appellant driving on but not over the fog line, was unconstitutional.  The court defines “lane,” as used in Minn. Stat. section 169.18.7(a), which makes it a violation to move from one’s traffic lane, as the area between markings, but not the lane markings themselves.  Thus, appellant driving on the fog line gave police a reasonable, articulable suspicion of a traffic violation.  His conviction and driver’s license revocation are affirmed.  Kruse v. Comm’r Pub. Safety, __ N.W.2d __, A17-0552, A17-0564, 2018 WL 312944 (Minn. Ct. App. 1/8/2018).

Waiting Period for Expungement

In 2000, Appellant was convicted of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor harassment restraining order (“HRO”) violations.  In 2002, he was convicted of 3rd degree DWI.  He filed petitions to expunge the HRO convictions in 2015.  The statute says a petition is allowed if the petitioner was convicted of a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor and has not been convicted of a new crime for at least two years since discharge of the sentence, or convicted of a gross misdemeanor and not convicted of a new crime for at least four years since discharge of the sentence.  The question is whether the waiting periods are only from the discharge date to the end of the two/four years, or if they are the two/four-year period before the filing of the petition?

The two and four-year conviction-free period must occur any time between the date the sentence is discharged and the date the expungement petition is filed.  Without deciding whether appellant’s petitions should have been granted, the court of appeals concludes that the district court is permitted to consider the petitions, because appellant had no convictions in the two years preceding his misdemeanor HRO expungement petition, and no convictions in the four years preceding his gross misdemeanor HRO expungement petition.  State v. C.W.N., ___ N.W.2d ___, A17-0728, A17-0729, 2018 WL 256738 (Minn. Ct. App. 1/2/2018).