Defense challenges legal process in criminal vehicular homicide caseA Cloquet woman facing two felony charges of criminal vehicular homicide while under the influence of a controlled substance made a rare appearance in Carlton County Court on Friday.
By: Wendy Johnson/John Lundy, Pine Journal
A Cloquet woman facing two felony charges of criminal vehicular homicide while under the influence of a controlled substance made a rare appearance in Carlton County Court on Friday.
The case of Vanessa Rae Brigan, 27, had been at a temporary standstill in Carlton County Court earlier this year after both Carlton County judges recused themselves from the case because the father of one of the victims is an attorney in Carlton County. Brigan faces prosecution in connection with a crash that killed two Carlton County Highway Department workers near Wright on Oct. 1, 2012, as she was on her way back from a methadone clinic in Brainerd.
Judge Dale Harris of Duluth agreed to hear the case in Carlton County, and since that time the attorneys have met in court to exchange discovery a couple times.
Brigan appeared in person last Friday for the contested omnibus hearing before Judge Harris.
Two of three scheduled witnesses testified, but a third, Minnesota State Patrol Trooper Mike Swanson, was unavailable because of a vacation.
John Lind, the public defender for Brigan, told Judge Harris he will contest evidence in three areas: statements made by Brigan on Oct. 1 before she was read her Miranda rights; items that were taken out of her vehicle with no search warrant; and the blood sample taken from Brigan at Community Memorial Hospital, also without a search warrant.
Carlton County Assistant Attorney Jesse Berglund first called Trooper Steven Erola, who arrived at the accident scene after Swanson but was the one who made the actual arrest. During Erola’s testimony, the court played a recording of Erola questioning Brigan at the accident scene while she sat in the back seat of his vehicle. Hearing Brigan recount the events that led up to the accident, two young women in the courtroom began sobbing and left for several minutes.
Then it was Lind’s turn. In questioning Erola, Lind tried to establish that although Brigan wasn’t arrested at the scene, she was never really free to go.
Lind then questioned Erola about the blood sample that was taken from Brigan after he took her to the hospital, but before he arrested her and read her her Miranda rights.
Lind asked Erola if he told Brigan he would “hold her down and make her give blood” if she didn’t comply. Erola said he didn’t recall saying that, but that it was “standard operating procedure” at the time.
“That was pre-McNeely,” Erola pointed out, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year in “Missouri v. McNeely” that determined if officers can “reasonably” obtain a search warrant before obtaining a blood draw, they are mandated to do that.
Erola said several times that Brigan never objected to or resisted the blood sample.
The medical lab technician at Community Memorial Hospital who drew the blood also testified.
Brigan sat and listened quietly during the 90-minute hearing. She was wearing a pink T-shirt and blue jeans, and was taken in and out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Berglund later said she’s being held in the Aitkin County Jail since she is deemed to be a long-term inmate and the local jail is currently overcrowded.
Berglund stated in an interview on Wednesday that he plans to wait to see what happens as the case continues to move forward before his office decides how best to prosecute the case.
The contested omnibus hearing will be continued at a later date that hasn’t yet been set.