Appeals court upholds Stewartville man’s conviction

January 2, 2019

A Stewartville man’s felony criminal vehicular operation convictions were upheld Monday following a ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Isaac Thomas Soltau, 29, was convicted in November 2017 following a bench trial in front of Olmsted County District Court Judge Joseph Chase of two felony counts of criminal vehicular operation. He received a stay of imposition on the charges, which means that they are dismissed when probation and its conditions are successfully completed in December 2020.

The conviction stems from a Sept. 22, 2013, incident in which a car Soltau was driving crashed in the 300 block of 36th Avenue Northwest, injuring two passengers.

Soltau and his attorney, James McGeeney, appealed the convictions arguing that the lower court erred when it denied their motion to dismiss the complaint and dismiss blood evidence obtained before a search warrant was granted.

In October, the appeal was argued in front of a three-judge panel of the state’s court of appeals.

On Monday, the appeals court upheld Soltau’s conviction, stating that the district court acted appropriately when it did not dismiss the charges nor the blood evidence.

Soltau argued that the case should be dismissed because of the more than two-year delay in bringing criminal charges.

While the state agreed that the prosecutor’s 27-month delay in charging Soltau was “unnecessary,” the appeals court found that the delay did not “prejudice him,” the ruling read. To make that decision, the three-justice panel found that Soltau “offered no evidence that he experienced anxiety over the lingering potential charges” and that he had only spent one night in jail.

The court also ruled that at least one piece of evidence — the car Soltau was driving at the time of the crash — was destroyed by its owner.

“Although the state did dispose of the blood sample, we cannot conclude that this prejudiced Soltau’s defense against the alcohol-based charges,” the court ruled. “Soltau admitted that he drank too much before driving and crashing the car, and he gives us no reason to doubt the accuracy or reliability of the three tests performed by the BCA, each of which showed a legally excessive blood-alcohol concentration.”

Soltau argued that the blood draw was conducted before the district court had issued a warrant

The court ruled that the officer acted within his right under the “exigent-circumstances exception” when the blood draw occurred. The exception “applies in a drunk-driving case if a reasonable officer would have concluded that he faced an urgency ‘in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant would significantly undermine the efficacy of the search,’” according to court documents.

The urgency was two-fold, according to court documents. The blood draw occurred at 4:40 a.m., which was just six minutes shy of when the two-hour statutory window would be closed, and that hospital staff was about to wheel Soltau away for surgery, the ruling notes.

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