Minnesota’s DWI Testing Survives Legal Challenge

24 Mar

On February 12, 2009 the Minnesota Supreme Court decision in State v. Netland was released. The principal issue in Netland was whether the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches prohibits Minnesota’s criminal test refusal statute. In Minnesota, refusal to submit to a test for the presence of alcohol when arrested for driving while intoxicated is itself a crime. See Minn. Stat. 169A.20, subd. 2.

In the Netland decision, which can be found on the court’s website (click here), the Court determined not only that Minnesota’s Implied Consent statute does not violate a person’s due process rights, as there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the officer and there is nothing about the taking of such a test that would shock the conscience, but also that the test refusal statute does not violate an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures.

The Court found that the test statute did not violate the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures primarily because alcohol in the blood of a suspect, rapidly disappears as part of a natural process. Therefore, there is a limited window of time in which it can be measured and requiring a warrant, which can take a much longer amount of time, would allow the evidence to disappear. The Court labeled the alcohol testing an exigent (special exception) circumstance to the general requirement that police have a warrant to search someone; as a result, the Court held, no warrant was required to secure a blood alcohol test when there is probable cause to suspect that a crime has occurred for which chemical impairment is an element of the offense.  Read the case here.

The decision, which was not unanimous by the Court, was hailed by prosecutors and law enforcement as necessary and reasonable decision to avoid the impractical consequence that requiring a warrant for every DWI test would render. Many defense attorneys consider the opinion inconsistent with other rulings of the courts in relation to obtaining evidence of a crime. The practical effect is that the current process for testing suspected drunk drivers remains in place and legally affirmed.

Author:

This blog entry is written by Chris Renz, a shareholder at Thomsen & Nybeck, P.A. Chris practices in the litigation area of the firm with primary focus on real estate litigation, employment litigation, townhome and condominium law, and criminal law, particularly as the prosecutor for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. For more information on Criminal law, please visit: http://www.tn-law.com/CM/Individual-Services/Criminal-Law.asp

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