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Byfuglien court case likely to stretch into February

Winnipeg Jets player Dustin Byfuglien takes a shot during the NHL team's training camp in Winnipeg, September 17, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade

Fred Greenslade/Reuters

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien will likely have to wait another three months before there's a resolution to his court case in Minnesota. Byfuglien faces four charges stemming from an incident last August when he was arrested on Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis over allegations of impaired boating.

Byfuglien took a breath test at the time and blew under the legal limit for alcohol. But he refused to take a blood or urine test. Police brought in a "drug-recognition expert" who alleged the 26-year-old "was under the influence of a controlled substance".

During a brief hearing Friday morning in Minneapolis, Byfuglien's lawyer Mitchell Robinson formally entered not guilty pleas on the player's behalf. Byfuglien had received court permission to skip the hearing and he was in Winnipeg preparing for the Jets upcoming game against Carolina.

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In an interview after the hearing, Robinson said he has had several discussions with the prosecution about a settlement but so far nothing has been agreed. He did not expect any settlement to be reached until Feb 2, when all sides are to have a conference with the presiding judge. If the case cannot be resolved during that meeting, a trial would be held. That would likely take place in April or May, Robinson said.

Much of the case hinges on Byfuglien's refusal to take the blood or urine test, an offence that carries up to one year in jail in Minnesota. Robinson said Byfuglien refused to take the test after passing the breath test. He then called Robinson who told him to take the blood or urine test. Byfuglien agreed but police said it was too late.

"If the cops ask you and you say 'No', that's a refusal," Robinson said. He added that one issue will be how much time elapsed before Byfuglien later agreed. If it was only a few minutes, Robinson could argue the police were being unreasonable. However, the police can argue the initial refusal was enough and they are not obliged for wait for people to make up their mind. As for the drug recognition expert, Robinson said Byfuglien denies taking any drugs and the expert's conclusions have been contradictory.

The charges have already caused some problems for Byfuglien. He had to answer a few tricky questions while crossing the U.S. and Canadian border during the Jets first road trip to Chicago and Phoenix. "There have been some questions raised," Robinson said. "It has been an issue...Is it going to be a problem in future? I hope not."

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European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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