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Drunk driving case: Small crack in windshield not probable cause

The U.S. Constitution provides a number of different protections for those living in the country. Unfortunately, many people may be unaware of the exact protections provided, especially regarding the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. However, a recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court in a drunk driving case helps clarify what actions of police may violate a person's Fourth Amendment rights.

The ruling involved a case from 2016. In that case, a driver was pulled over as a result of a cracked windshield. After the stop, the police officer claims that the man was under the influence of alcohol, not wearing his seat belt and driving on a restricted license. Though a representative for the man argued that the evidence should be thrown out because it was the result of a stop conducted without probable cause, he was convicted.

However, the decision was appealed. The stop was initiated as a result of a law that prohibits a driver from driving with a cracked windshield that limits or obstructs "proper vision." The man argued that the crack in his windshield was not probable cause for a stop because it did not obstruct his vision. The recent ruling concurs, stating that there is only probable cause for a stop if the crack obstructs the driver's vision.

This ruling could have important implications for those who may have been charged with drunk driving only after being stopped for having a cracked windshield that does not obstruct their vision. In this particular case, the man's conviction stood because he was not wearing a seat belt and because it is still possible for searches and seizures to be reasonable based upon a mistake of fact. However, the case demonstrates the issues with establishing probable cause regarding a traffic stop in Minnesota. In all cases resulting in criminal charges, defendants may benefit from having an experienced criminal defense attorney examine all the evidence in their case and the events leading up to their arrest to assess whether it was obtained lawfully.

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