Felony DWI Law: Minnesota Supreme Court to Decide Which Controls - Plain Language or Legislative Intent

Posted On February 23, 2012 by Charles Ramsay

In the case of State of Minnesota v. Retzlaff, the defendant submitted a breath sample of .19 on the Intoxilyzer 5000. Because he had previously been convicted of felony criminal vehicular operation in March 2000, was charged with a Felony DWI.

Normally in Minnesota, a person must have three prior qualified driving incidents within the last ten years in order to be charged with a felony. One statute seems to permit enhancement to a felony where a person was previously convicted of a felony under the criminal vehicular operation / criminal vehicle homicide statute.

In Retzlaff, the defendant argued he could not be charged with felony drunk driving because the enhancement provision of the Felony DWI Law refers to a statute numbered differently from his prior conviction. Retzlaff argued that the law as currently written expressly enhances offenses to Felony 1st degree DWI when the driver had a prior conviction under 609.21, subdivision 1. In fact, he had been convicted of criminal vehicular operation under section 609.21, subdivision 2A.

The trial court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that he could be charged under the statute, despite the obvious discrepancy. The appellate court noted even where the law is clear and unambiguous, further analysis is "necessary if the plain meaning leads to absurd or unreasonable results that depart from the purpose of the statute.|

Because we are convinced that Retzlaff's literal interpretation would utterly confound the statute's intent, we affirm his conviction of first-degree driving while impaired.

The Supreme Court granted review on February 14, 2012. We look forward to reviewing the parties' briefs, watching the oral argument and reading the Supreme Court's order.

In the meantime, we intend to use |absurd result doctrine| in urine cases to demonstrate that the legislature did not intend to make criminals out of drivers who have zero alcohol in their blood, but are over the legal limit by urine. Watch for our next post in the Minnesota DWI Defense Blog: |Does the Absurd Results Doctrine Preclude First-Void Urine Alcohol Testing?|