10/28/2013Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Warrantless DUI Tests
Minnesota Supreme Court says making it a crime to refuse consent to a breathalyzer or blood test does not make the consent coerced.
A man arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) three times in Minnesota convinced the US Supreme Court to tell his state's courts to re-consider his case regarding the warrantless testing of drunk-driving suspects. The Minnesota Supreme Court responded Wednesday by ruling that the warrantless testing of suspected drunk drivers does not violate a recent US Supreme Court precedent.
The case originated from the July 31, 2009 stop of Wesley Eugene Brooks. A Shakopee police officer spotted Brooks in a white SUV speeding out of the parking lot of a bar. The officer pulled Brooks over and conducted sobriety tests because he smelled of alcohol. Brooks refused to do anything before consulting with his attorney, who just happened to be sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle. The attorney advised him not to take any tests. The officer arrested Brooks and brought him to the St. Francis Medical Center. After being read the implied consent statute that forces him under law to take a test, Brooks agreed to provide a urine sample that produced a 0.14 blood alcohol content (BAC) reading, above the 0.08 legal limit.
On January 16, 2010, Brooks was in a pickup truck when he passed a Hennepin County police officer on Interstate 35 at around 7pm. Once again, Brooks was brought to the St. Francis Medical Center for testing. This time, he took a blood test after consulting with his attorney and being told he had no choice. It provided a 0.16 BAC reading.
Nine days later, police officers in Prior Lake responded to a call about a man slumped over behind the wheel of a car on the road at 7am. The vehicle was running and Brooks had his foot on the brake. Once again, Brooks smelled of alcohol so he was brought to Scott County Jail. This time, he was agitated and uncooperative. His urine sample came back with a 0.16 BAC. Brooks attempted to have all three test results thrown out on the grounds that the samples were all taken without a warrant. The lower and appellate courts rejected the argument, so Brooks took the issue up with the US Supreme Court. The high court vacated the decision of the Minnesota courts and ordered them to re-examine the case in light of the high court's April decision in Missouri v. NcNeely (view opinion), which struck down the use of warrantless blood draws.
Brooks argued that the consent he gave was coerced because he was told he had no choice in the matter because refusal to consent is a crime. Minnesota's Supreme Court disagreed, finding the tests were taken voluntarily because it was possible to say no.
"A driver's decision to agree to take a test is not coerced simply because Minnesota has attached the penalty of making it a crime to refuse the test," Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote for the majority. "The Minnesota legislature has given those who drive on Minnesota roads a right to refuse the chemical test. If a driver refuses the test, the police are required to honor that refusal and not perform the test."
Since the tests were taken voluntarily, the court refused to suppress the evidence, and the court upheld his conviction. A copy of the Minnesota decision is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.