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Appeals court reverses DWI conviction

ST. PAUL — A Rochester man has had his gross misdemeanor DWI conviction reversed on a state appeal.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled last month that the police officer who stopped Maurice Antwan Hegwood's vehicle early Feb. 17, 2013 — a stop that led to a DWI charge — didn't have a "reasonable" suspicion of criminal activity.

The case began about 2:30 a.m. that day, as an officer patrolled the area surrounding a bar where fights and assaults had been occurring near closing time. The officer was driving north on U.S. Highway 63, behind a vehicle that turned left into the parking lot of a towing business.

The officer thought it was unusual for the vehicle to enter the lot, the appeal says, because he knew the business was closed and there was no access to other businesses or roads. He followed the car into the parking lot and activated his emergency lights while the vehicle was still moving.

After speaking with the driver — Hegwood — the officer administered several field sobriety tests, then arrested Hegwood for DWI.


Hegwood asked the local court to dismiss the charges on several grounds, including that the stop was invalid. The request was denied, and he was convicted after a bench trial in March 2014. He was fined $1,015 and sentenced to 48 hours in jail and 28 days on home electronic monitoring, all of which were stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

The state argued that Hegwood's unusual activity — pulling into the parking lot of a closed business — and the recent incidents surrounding the nearby bar provided the officer with a "reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."

But Hegwood, now 25, argued that there was no evidence that there had been recent burglaries, thefts, or other property crimes in the area, and the problems associated with the nearby bar were of a different type.

The officer testified in Olmsted County District Court that there was nothing suspicious about Hegwood's vehicle before he turned; because he'd been able to see it at all relevant times, he could be assured that no criminal activity had occurred, the appeals court said.

The stop was based on a possibility that the vehicle's occupants might have intended to engage in criminal activity, the judges said, but a driver might turn into a parking lot along a highway for many other reasons, including to safely turn around, to use a cell phone or for a legitimate purpose connected to the business.

The officer could have waited nearby for a short time to watch the vehicle and its occupants, the judges continued, to provide him with more information.

Simply pulling into the parking lot of a closed business didn't support the officer's "unarticulated hunch," the ruling says, and the district court erred by denying Hegwood's motion to suppress evidence.

The case was not remanded back to the district court.

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