DWI case turns into a fight for personal rights
Paul Bueltel said he’s fighting against a drunken driving charge but also in defense of his personal rights.
The fight started when Bueltel, a 34-year-old Rosemount man, was stopped by law enforcement at about 2 a.m. Oct. 27 last year in the area of 160th Street and Clayton Avenue in Coates.
Bueltel said he and a friend were out to Apple Valley that night and were trying to get home to 160th Street in Rosemount. Unfamiliar with the area, he missed his turn, and when he saw signs for Highway 52, he realized they had gotten lost, he said.
He had GPS navigation on his phone and found a visible, safe spot to stop and check the map. While he was stopped, a Dakota County sheriff’s deputy saw the vehicle and approached.
“I observed a vehicle that appeared to be driving the wrong way on Highway 52,” the deputy wrote in his incident report. “As I got closer the vehicle was not traveling on Highway 52 but was parked on the shoulder in front of the Amish Furniture Store.”
The deputy didn’t turn on his squad car’s emergency lights right away, but pulled up behind Bueltel’s car to run the license plate number.
By that time, Bueltel had finished checking his GPS. When he saw the other vehicle pulling up behind him, he figured he would let it pass. When it didn’t, he decided to leave the area rather than risk an altercation, he said, as he didn’t know who it was.
As Bueltel pulled away, the deputy turned on his emergency lights and began a formal traffic stop. According to the report, the reason for the stop was “Due to the time of night and a recent burglary in the area.”
Things escalated quickly though, as the deputy approached Bueltel and almost immediately noticed a pistol in Bueltel’s pocket. Video from the squad car’s dash-cam shows the deputy’s reaction within seconds of approaching the car. He drew his own gun on Bueltel and gave him instructions that ultimately led him to get out of the car, where he was handcuffed and searched. Meanwhile, Bueltel repeatedly told the deputy that he has a permit to carry.
Two other deputies had also seen the vehicle and approached in their squad shortly after the first deputy. Moments after the first deputy called over the radio that Bueltel had a gun, a second deputy approached with an assault rifle pointed at the occupants of the vehicle, according to the video.
There’s nothing in the report or in the video that suggests Bueltel or his passenger were uncooperative. Bueltel said in an interview later that he already had his hands on the steering wheel when the deputy approached, knowing any movement that could be interpreted as going for his gun would stress the situation.
“I was already scared when he pulled his gun on me,” Bueltel recalled.
Bueltel was given a preliminary breath test at the scene and was arrested for driving under the influence and carrying a pistol while intoxicated. The legal limit for carrying a handgun while drinking in Minnesota is .04, lower than the .08 legal driving limit.
When he was taken to the station, deputies attempted to conduct a second breath test. Bueltel was unable to contact an attorney, and told deputies he wanted a doctor and attorney present before submitting another test. Under Minnesota law, it is a crime to refuse to submit to a test to determine whether a suspect is under the influence of alcohol. Bueltel was also charged with refusal to submit to a test.
Bueltel’s passenger was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Bueltel is currently working his way through criminal court proceedings regarding the case. He’s already tried to have the case thrown out, but a ruling by judge David Knutson denied the request in May.
Bueltel’s defense is focusing on the basis for the stop itself.
“There are many important issues (in this case), said Samuel Edmunds, representing Bueltel, “... the most significant is the basis for the sheriff’s office stopping his motor vehicle that night.”
While the report and the deputy maintain the stop was based on a concern about recent burglaries in the area, Edmunds said there was only one incident that happened at a business a few blocks away from where Bueltel was stopped, and that burglary had occurred four months prior. He said there was no reason for law enforcement to think Bueltel’s vehicle had anything to do with the incident.
“It is our position that the Dakota County Sheriff’s Department didn’t have a valid basis to stop Paul’s vehicle that night,” Edmunds said.
The state believes there is enough evidence for a stop, said Michael Molenda, who is one of the prosecuting attorneys on the case. The order issued in May that allowed the case to continue stands as evidence that the judge felt there was enough reason for the stop as well, he said.
Cases like Bueltel’s are not uncommon. It’s fairly common practice for law enforcement to watch a particular area that has experienced a string of similar crimes, Edmunds said, and to stop vehicles that appear similar to suspect vehicles or don’t have a reason to be there. The problem in Bueltel’s case, he said, is that there was no string of crimes that happened near there recently.
Another factor contributing to the rise in court cases like Bueltel’s is a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court in April that states cannot routinely compel drivers suspected of driving under the influence to submit a blood test without consent and without a warrant. Molenda said his firm has been getting a lot of cases regarding blood, breath and urine tests as a result of the Missouri ruling.
The next step for Bueltel is to see his case proceed to a trial by jury. Edmunds said they are working through pre-trial hearings. New court dates have been set for May and June of next year.
If he’s convicted, Bueltel has the right to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He could appeal not only his conviction but the May ruling that found the stop to be legal.
A matter of rights
For Bueltel, the case goes beyond simply trying to avoid a DWI conviction. He feels the stop was a violation of his civil rights, and that the deputies’ actions that night were an overreach of their authority because they had no reason to believe a crime was being committed, he said, or to react the way they did to his gun.
“You can’t just throw a big net out,” he said. “They’re not supposed to stop everybody.”
Bueltel said he’s been stopped before by police while carrying his gun. Every other interaction with police had been calm, he said. Most officers didn’t seem to care, and simply wanted to know where the gun was, he said.
Bueltel is taking his case to the public because he sees it as a chance to help others and stop law enforcement from treating others the way he was treated.
“It could really happen to anybody,” he said.