Renville County case leads high court to affirm: Impaired drivers cannot carry pistols

Tom Cherveny, West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn.
·2 min read

Apr. 5—Minnesota law that prohibits a person who is under the influence from carrying a pistol in a public place is the rule of the road too since highways are public places.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that the law for carrying firearms applies to drivers on public highways based on a Renville County case.

In a decision released on March 31, the state Supreme Court affirmed the earlier ruling and by so doing reinstated a misdemeanor charge of "carrying pistol while under influence of alcohol" against Kevin Russel Serbus, 49, of Redwood Falls.

"Because we conclude that the Legislature intended to prohibit an impaired person from carrying a pistol on public streets even when that person is inside a motor vehicle, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals," said Justice J. Anderson in the opinion accompanying the decision.

Serbus was charged following a traffic stop on July 26, 2019. A Renville County Sheriff's Officer observed the vehicle he was driving swerve across the centerline. The complaint charges that Serbus had bloodshot and watery eyes, and that a preliminary breath test showed he had an alcohol concentration of .09, or above the .08 legal limit.

According to the Court, Serbus was placed in the back of the officer's squad car and asked if he wanted anything from his vehicle. Serbus asked for his keys, wallet and phone, and informed the deputy that the phone was in the center console next to his firearm, a Ruger .45 caliber pistol. He had a permit to possess a pistol.

Serbus was charged with four crimes, including driving under the influence and carrying a pistol in a public place. After an omnibus hearing, the district court dismissed the charge for carrying a pistol in a public place. The district court ruled that a motor vehicle is not a public place and that Serbus does not frequently make his vehicle available for use by the public.

The state appealed, and the Court of Appeals remanded the matter after finding that the "proper subject of analysis is the public highway on which Serbus drove his vehicle," and not the cab of the vehicle.

The Supreme Court concluded that the "Legislature intended to prohibit an impaired driver from carrying a pistol on a highway in a vehicle." "Accordingly, we hold that the driver of a motor vehicle on a public highway is in a "public place" for the purpose" of the appropriate statute.

The Renville County charges against Serbus are pending disposition. A settlement conference is scheduled in district court for May 24.