The Importance of Wearing Your Seat Belt

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The Minnesota Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the importance of wearing your seat belt in Minnesota v. Poehler.  Wearing a seat belt is important to help prevent serious injury in case of a vehicle accident.  In addition to the safety concerns of failing to wear your seat belt, it is important to consider other issues that may arise from a lawful stop based on not properly fastening your seat belt.  

In Poehler, the defendant was driving with a cracked windshield and did not appear to be wearing a seat belt. Notably, Minnesota law prohibits driving without a properly fastened seat belt.  After an officer stopped the defendant for the cracked windshield and no seat belt, the officer noticed signs of intoxication.  The defendant took a preliminary breath test, which noted a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.  The defendant also had a restricted driver’s license which prohibited him from using any alcohol or drugs.  The state charged him with violating his license restriction and driving while impaired. However, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence of the stop, arguing the officer’s observation of his not wearing a seat belt was insufficient to justify the stop.  

The Minnesota Supreme Court discussed that officers must have reasonable grounds to initiate a traffic stop.  “Reasonable grounds” means an officer must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting criminal activity.  The Court in Poehler concluded that driving without a seat belt is a criminal activity, which means an officer has reasonable grounds to stop a person not wearing a seat belt.  The Minnesota Supreme Court concluded there was no error in concluding the officer appropriately stopped the defendant, leading to the two charges.

Failing to wear your seat belt can lead to a variety of legal problems, including unexpected criminal charges or serious injury. Contact O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo, North Dakota or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 if you need assistance.

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