Minnesota court upholds traffic stop after ‘fire drill’ prank

In late June the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that a traffic stop following a fake “fire drill” at a Mankato intersection was reasonable under the law. In general, the Fourth Amendment does not allow officers to conduct an investigatory stop without a sufficient level of reasonable suspicion that some kind of unlawful conduct is happening. That is a simple hunch that something is awry is not a proper basis for police to stop a vehicle.

In 2011, a Mankato police officer says that he drove up behind a car at a Mankato intersection around 2:30 in the morning. He says that several people jumped out of the car and ran around the vehicle. The idea is a known common prank. The officer says that one of the participants ran off after seeing the squad car, but other people jumped back in the car and drove through the intersection.

The officer pulled over the vehicle and ultimately arrested the driver on suspicion of driving while impaired based upon his observations during the early morning traffic stop. The woman challenged the evidence gathered after the original stop, arguing that the officer violated constitutional guarantees against unreasonable intrusion in conducting the stop. Prosecutors argued that the stop was justified.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court—the trial judge refused to suppress the DWI evidence. The appellate panel noted that the officer testified that he had to wait 15 to 20 seconds behind the vehicle during the prank while the light was green. The court ruled that the officer was justified in conducting a stop to investigate his suspicion that the driver had violated the law by impeding traffic. Courts generally hold that a minor traffic violation is a sufficient reason to conduct a stop.

While the woman did not prevail in the legal argument, it is important for people to consider raising issues in a criminal case to help protect individual constitutional rights. Constitutional principles would lose their effectiveness if the concepts were not challenged in court.

We have recently discussed the issue of criminal appeals in different contexts—including in the McNeely case, where the Supreme Court ruled that warrantless blood tests in routine DWI cases generally violate the Constitution.

Allowing constitutional rights to erode without challenge is tantamount to allowing the government to potentially obtain a wrongful conviction in the first place. These appellate court rulings typically follow challenges raised in the trial court, where the rubber meets the road in criminal defense.

Source: The Mankato Free Press, “Court: fake fire drill justified drunken driving arrest,” Dan Nienaber, June 29, 2013; Minnesota Court of Appeals, “State v. Holdgrafer, A12-1357, June 24, 2013

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.
Minnesota recently passed a public safety bill that brings sweeping changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. While minors sometimes run afoul of the law, the juvenile justice system seeks to account for the differences between children and adults. Therefore, while the penalties for adults convicted of crimes focus on punishment, those for juveniles are aimed at diversion and restorative practices.