Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien is expected to face criminal charges following his arrest last month in Minneapolis for suspicion of boating while impaired and refusing a sample.
Steve Tallen, a Lake Minnetonka Conservation District attorney, gave his legal blessing on Monday for the case to proceed. A spokesman in his office told the Free Press the file has now been put back in the hands of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office to formally lay the charge.
Such a move is likely to be completed this month.
Byfuglien, 26, was first arrested Aug. 31 for "probable cause" and spent three hours in custody before he was released. Tallen received the file after the Labour Day long weekend and has been reviewing the evidence compiled by police to determine if there was sufficient grounds to bring the case to court. He had the option of dismissing the case or recommending it to go forward, which he has now done.
A spokesman said it would be "very rare" for the charge not to be laid once it has the approval of the DA. None of the allegations is proven, and Byfuglien is presumed innocent.
Jets director of communications Scott Brown told the Free Press on Monday they were still waiting for a formal decision and wouldn’t be commenting at this time.
Byfuglien is expected to report to Winnipeg this week for the start of Jets training camp. But his pending legal matters could make for an off-ice headache for both Byfuglien and the city’s reborn hockey team.
Byfuglien could technically be refused entry into Canada based simply on criminal charges such as third-degree boating while intoxicated and the refusal of a blood or urine test. However, experts say such a drastic move is unlikely at this point. But his life would become much more complicated if he was ultimately convicted. In Minnesota, he could face up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a year-long driving suspension. He would then have to apply in writing to the Canadian government for a temporary resident permit to enter the country. If granted, the order would expire after one year.
Byfuglien would have to apply for five consecutive years before he could try to obtain a lifetime pass. Manitoba also upholds any driver’s licence suspensions imposed in the U.S. In Manitoba, a conviction for refusing a sample is an automatic two-year licence suspension, while impaired driving is just one year.
Byfuglien could also face potential sanctions from the NHL. Once charged, doctors from the NHL Players’ Association and the league will conduct an automatic assessment to determine whether he would be placed into the NHLPA’s Substance Abuse and Behaviour Health Program. The same would apply to any player who is charged with an offence.
Byfuglien was arrested during the evening on Lower Lake South on Lake Minnetonka. He has a home in Spring Park and the area is popular among local celebrities who have settled there.
Multiple sources have told the Free Press Byfuglien was stopped by police while piloting his fishing boat and asked to take a breathalyzer. He reportedly had just finished eating dinner at a dockside restaurant with his girlfriend, a business associate and his wife.
Byfuglien is said to have had two or three glasses of wine during dinner. and was not driving erratically but stopped as part of a checkstop. Police can still charge you with impaired driving without an actual reading, based strictly on observations.
Byfuglien is an all-star who led all NHL defencemen last year in goals and helped guide the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in late June 2010.
- with files from Ed Tait and Gary Lawless