Lawyers argued before an Appeals Court panel here Thursday about whether a DWI suspect who was cuffed to a wall was intimidated into agreeing to a urine test and whether a couple whose parental rights were previously taken away for abusing two of their children were unlawfully denied parental rights for their infant child.
Three judges from the Minnesota Court of Appeals came to the Blue Earth County Justice Center to hear oral arguments in six cases before the appellate court.
The court is in St. Paul but its judges sometimes travel to courthouses across the state to give the public and students a chance to see the proceedings.
In the DWI case, Ellen Arnt was arrested by a Pipestone County deputy for what would become her third DWI. She was put in a squad car and taken to the sheriff’s office and had one wrist handcuffed to a bar on the wall.
Arnt provided a urine sample and was convicted. She appealed, arguing she was effectively coerced into giving the urine sample because she was intimidated by being put in a squad car, then cuffed to the wall and because a deputy allegedly yelled at her. Her attorney also argued that when the deputy read an advisory to her about giving the urine test, he correctly noted that if she refused the test, she would be charged with failing to provide the test but failed to tell her she had a right to refuse giving a urine test.
That lower court ruled that while the advisory may have been given improperly, it wasn’t enough to overturn the charges and they noted that Arnt’s claim she was intimidated by the arresting officer wasn’t compelling because she had prior familiarity with being arrested and charged for DWIs. The court also ruled there was no evidence the deputy yelled at her.
Her attorney, Paul Malone, told the Appeals Court judges that the lower court erred and that being cuffed inside the law enforcement building was intimidating enough to constitute coercion.
But attorney William Young, arguing for the court to reject the appeal, said the lower court was right in saying Arnt was familiar with the system after her two previous arrests and that the deputy didn’t yell at her. Young said Arnt also was given two chances to call an attorney before making her decision on whether to give the urine test.
Judge Louise Dovre Bjorkman asked Young if it was good protocol for a deputy to cuff someone to a wall once they are inside a secure law enforcement facility. He said different departments may have different protocols but in this case the lower court rightly ruled that having one of her wrists cuffed, while having one hand free to make a phone call, didn’t constitute coercion.
In another case, attorney Travis Smith argued that his clients’ parental rights were improperly taken away. A court had previously taken away a couple’s parental rights after finding they had caused serious physical and emotional abuse to two of their children. When the couple had another baby, officials removed the infant from the home and petitioned to have their parental rights terminated for the infant as well.
But Smith said the lower court did not follow state law or Supreme Court rulings when it took the rights away a second time. He said the law is clear in that only the parents’ relationship with the infant should be considered, not the past case.
He said the father had testified he wouldn’t abuse the infant, had six days of supervised time with the infant without any problems, that he had sought mental health help and was reading books to improve his parenting. Smith argued that was the only evidence the court should have used and that the law says the courts should give a favorable view to parents’ testimony in parental rights cases.
But attorney Barden Hoefert, representing Nobles County Family Services, said the lower court was right to weigh the father’s past abuse of his children and whether he had adequately improved his parenting skills. And he noted the father only sought mental health help after the infant was removed from the home and that the father continued to deny physically abusing his other two children, even though a court found that he had.
Judge Jeanne Cochran and Judge Denise Reilly voiced skepticism about Smith’s argument that the lower court was wrong to look at the father’s previous case. The judges asked questions suggesting it would be difficult for a court to determine if the father had improved without looking at his previous case. But Smith responded that state law is clear that only the relationship with the child in question should be part of the decision making.
The Appeals Court has 90 days to rule on the cases.
Twenty students from the Street Law class at Mankato West High School sat in on some of the oral arguments. Teacher Mark Weise said the elective class is new this year.
“We cover introductory criminal and civil law,” he said. He said having the ninth- to 12th-grade students sit in on an Appeals Court hearing, something none of them had done before, was a good way to get an inside look at how the courts operate.