North Dakota DWI Convictions Don't Apply in Minnesota

North Dakota DWI Convictions Don’t Apply in Minnesota

Appeal to High Court Could Overturn Ruling

North Dakota drunken driving convictions can’t be used against drivers
in Minnesota cases, because North Dakota motorists may not be told of
their rights before they are tested for alcohol, the Minnesota Court of
Appeals says.

The ruling came in two appeals from Clay County, Minn., brought by two
arrested separately in Moorhead, Minn., in May 2004.

Nathan Schuster, 30, of neighboring Fargo, N.D., and Wade Little Owl,
31, of Moorhead challenged the prosecution’s use of their North Dakota
drunken driving convictions to bring harsher Minnesota charges against
them for driving while impaired.

North Dakota law does not require motorists to be told of their right
against self-incrimination before they are given a blood or breath test.
Therefore, the Minnesota court ruled, the North Dakota convictions of
Schuster and Little Owl cannot be used against them in their Minnesota

Schuster has an October 1998 conviction in North Dakota for driving
under the influence, while Little Owl has had three North Dakota
convictions for DWI or refusing a breath test in the past 10 years, the
opinion says.

Ken Kohler, the Clay County prosecutor, said Friday that his office
will appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The ruling was
handed down Jan. 31. “Obviously, when you’re on a border county
… a large number of people drive back and forth, and
if we can’t use North Dakota convictions, it’s difficult to hold someone
accountable,” Kohler said. “There’s a safety issue to the community in
allowing these individuals not to have harsher sentences for repeat DWI
offenses, which this certainly does.”

Minnesota requires that drivers be told of their right to remain
silent and to speak to an attorney before they take a chemical test to
judge possible impairment. North Dakota Supreme Court rulings say a
driver must have a “reasonable opportunity” to consult a lawyer before
taking a test if he or she requests legal counsel. However, police are
not required to inform drivers of their rights.

“Because North Dakota does not require that motorists be informed of
their right to counsel prior to chemical testing, the right loses its
meaningful purpose in practical application,” the appeals court’s opinion
says. “Given that the purpose of the right to counsel is to protect
individuals unfamiliar with the legal system, it is implicit that those
individuals first be informed that such a right exists.”

Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota’s attorney general, said he did not
believe it is necessary for law officers to routinely advise drunken
driving suspects of their right to a lawyer, although he said many

In North Dakota, motorists who refuse a chemical test have their
driving privileges suspended for a year. Typically, attorneys tell their
clients they must choose whether to take the test or have their licenses
taken, Stenehjem said.

“There’s not a whole lot of expert legal advice that any attorney can
give in that situation,” Stenehjem said. “I’ve done this. This is what
you tell them. If you don’t consent to the test, then that means you’re
going to lose your license for a year … if there was
probable cause to arrest you in the first place.”


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