of Appellate Courts
Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Anthony
C. Palumbo, Anoka County Attorney, Kelsey R. Kelley,
Assistant County Attorney, Anoka, Minnesota, for respondent.
Douglas V. Hazelton, Andrew C. Wilson, Halberg Criminal
Defense, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for appellant.
C. Holten, Jeffrey D. Bores, Gary K. Luloff, Chestnut
Cambronne PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae
Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Legal Defense
term "operating" in Minn. Stat. § 609.2113,
subd. 1 (2016), refers to any act that causes a motor vehicle
to function or controls the functioning of a motor vehicle,
including the act of a passenger grabbing the steering wheel
of a moving vehicle.
issue presented in this case is whether a passenger who grabs
the steering wheel of a moving vehicle is
"operating" the motor vehicle under the
criminal-vehicular-operation statute, Minn. Stat. §
609.2113, subd. 1 (2016). The State charged appellant Tchad
Tu Henderson with criminal vehicular operation after he
grabbed the steering wheel of a moving vehicle, causing it to
crash and inflict great bodily harm on the vehicle's
three other occupants. The district court found that
Henderson had operated the vehicle when he turned the
steering wheel, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because
the plain meaning of the term "operating" in the
criminal-vehicular-operation statute unambiguously includes
Henderson's conduct, we affirm.
A.S., B.F., and B.H. had been at a bar together just minutes
before the accident. B.H., who was sober, agreed to drive the
group to their next destination. Henderson, who was under the
influence of alcohol, sat in the front passenger seat of the
vehicle. During the drive, Henderson and B.H. began arguing
about how to get to their destination. At some point while
the vehicle was in motion, Henderson yelled that B.H. should
have made a turn, grabbed the steering wheel, and pulled it
in his direction. B.H. had both hands on the steering wheel
but could not resist because of the force that Henderson
used. As a result of Henderson's actions, the vehicle
swerved off the road, traveled part way up a support cable
attached to a utility pole, and flipped upside down. It is
undisputed that B.H., A.S., and B.F. all suffered great
State charged Henderson with four counts of criminal
vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm under
Minn. Stat. § 609.21 (2012): one count under subdivision
1(1) (grossly negligent), and three counts under subdivision
1(2)(i) (negligent while under the influence of
alcohol). Henderson moved to dismiss the complaint
based on a lack of probable cause that he was
"operating" the motor vehicle. The district court
denied the motion, and Henderson was subsequently convicted
of all four counts.
appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to dismiss and
arguing that the State had failed to present sufficient
evidence that he had "operated" the motor vehicle.
The court of appeals affirmed his convictions on counts two,
three, and four, holding that "operation" includes
the "manipulation of the steering wheel of a moving
motor vehicle by a passenger." State v.
Henderson, 890 N.W.2d 739, 744 (Minn.App.
2017). The court's conclusion was based on
the "policy of giving impaired driving laws the broadest
possible effect in favor of public safety, the plain meaning
of the word 'operate, ' and the fact that the vehicle
was not stationary when [Henderson] manipulated the steering
wheel." Id. We granted review to ...