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Poncelet v. Commissioner of Public Safety

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 29, 2013

Daniel Gerard Poncelet, petitioner, Appellant,
v.
Commissioner of Public Safety, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Goodhue County District Court File No. 25-CV-12-1351

Jeffrey Stephen Sheridan, Eagan, Minnesota (for appellant).

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Natasha Malea Karn, James Eric Haase, Assistant Attorneys General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent).

Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Chutich, Judge; and Toussaint, Judge.

Toussaint, Judge[*]

In this implied-consent appeal, appellant Daniel Poncelet argues that (1) his refusal to submit to chemical testing was reasonable and his due process rights were violated because the deputy misstated the law and actively misled him when reading the implied-consent advisory; and (2) his due process rights were violated because the deputy gave him a Notice and Order of Revocation (NOR) indicating a license revocation period of one year when, based on his driving record, the revocation period should have been two years. Because the deputy did not misstate the law when reading the implied-consent advisory and because appellant failed to show that he suffered a direct and personal harm from the deputy giving him the NOR and respondent Commissioner of Public Safety later giving him a new Notice of Revocation letter (NOR letter) stating the correct two-year revocation period, we affirm.

DECISION

When reviewing a decision in an implied-consent proceeding, we consider legal conclusions de novo. Berge v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985). Findings of fact are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard. Jasper v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 642 N.W.2d 435, 440 (Minn. 2000). Whether a person has been denied due process of law is a legal issue, which we review de novo. Williams v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 830 N.W.2d 442, 444 (Minn.App. 2013).

I.

When an officer requests that an individual take a chemical test, the person must be informed that Minnesota law requires the person to take a test "to determine if the person is under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or hazardous substances." Minn. Stat. § 169A.51, subd. 2(1) (2012). The person must also be informed that refusal to take a test is a crime. Id., subd. 2(2) (2012). If a person refuses to permit a test, then a test must not be given. Minn. Stat. § 169A.52, subd. 1 (2012). Under the implied-consent statute, "[i]t is an affirmative defense for the petitioner to prove that, at the time of the refusal, the petitioner's refusal to permit the test was based upon reasonable grounds." Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(c) (2012).

Minnesota appellate courts have recognized a driver's confusion as a reasonable basis for refusal. See, e.g., State, Dep't of Highways v. Beckey, 291 Minn. 483, 485-87, 192 N.W.2d 441, 444-45 (1971) (concluding that driver's refusal was reasonable based on driver's confusion about whether Miranda rights apply in implied-consent proceeding); Frost v. Comm'r of Public Safety, 401 N.W.2d 454, 456 (Minn.App. 1987) (holding driver's refusal reasonable based on driver's confusion regarding whether he had right to have personal doctor present for breath test). And "[a] refusal may be reasonable if the police have misled a driver into believing a refusal was reasonable or if the police have made no attempt to explain to a confused driver his obligations." Frost, 401 N.W.2d at 456. Whether a person had reasonable grounds to refuse to submit to chemical testing is generally characterized as a question of fact. Beckey, 291 Minn. at 486, 192 N.W.2d at 444-45. "But where there is no dispute as to facts, the legal significance of the facts may be a question of law." Maietta v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 663 N.W.2d 595, 598 (Minn.App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 2003).

"Under the federal constitution, due process does not permit the government to mislead individuals as to either their legal obligations or the penalties they might face should they fail to satisfy those obligations." State v. Melde, 725 N.W.2d 99, 103 (Minn. 2006). In the implied-consent context, the Minnesota Supreme Court has "taken notice of whether individual suspects were actively misled by police regarding their statutory obligation to undergo testing." McDonnell v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 473 N.W.2d 848, 854 (Minn. 1991). The McDonnell court expressly limited its holding to "identical due process claim[s]." Id.

Deputy Rodney Roberts of the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office arrested appellant on May 22, 2012, for driving while impaired (DWI). The Deputy read the Minnesota Implied Consent ...


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