The Constitutionality of Blood and Urine Testing Following a Minnesota DUI/DWI Arrest

Under Minnesota’s “implied consent” law (Minn. Stat. sec. 169A.20, subd. 2), motorists who refuse to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test if suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) are subject to additional criminal charges and penalties. These chemical tests are necessary to measure a motorist’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to determine whether s/he was over the legal limit and, therefore, DUI/DWI.

Two recent MN Supreme Court cases concerning the constitutionality of forcing blood and/or urine test by threatening additional charges have examined the issue and the court has held that such refusal doesn’t rise to the level of a crime. Consequently, these forced tests violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure and their due process rights pursuant to the US and Minnesota Constitutions.

Setting the stage for these decisions is Birchfield v. North Dakota in which the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) held that requiring a driver to submit to a warrantless blood or urine test without exigent circumstances or be prosecuted was unconstitutional. Following this case, the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed the same issue in State v. Trahan and in State v. Thompson and determined that whereas requiring a motorist suspected of DUI/DWI to take a breath test could, in fact, be criminalized, requiring the motorist submit to more intrusive blood or urine test was unconstitutional.

State V. Trahan

In Trahan, the issue was Trahan’s refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test. The Minnesota Supreme Court examined SCOTUS’s ruling in Birchfield that requiring a motorist suspected of DUI/DWI submit to a warrantless blood test or be prosecuted was unconstitutional.

In some cases, bypassing obtaining a warrant is legal, such as is the case with exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances exist if a police officer reasonably and objectively believed s/he is facing an emergency or other danger and/or a delay in obtaining a warrant would “significantly undermine the efficacy of the search.”

Based on the facts of this case, no exigency existed. Normal alcohol dissipation is not an exigency in and of itself according to SCOTUS in Missouri v. McNeely, and that Trahan had been in custody for over two hours provided officers with ample time to obtain a warrant for a blood sample. Forcing a blood test without a warrant violated Trahan’s search and seizure and due process rights under both the US and Minnesota Constitutions.

State V. Thompson

In Thompson, the court held that a warrantless urine test did not constitute a legitimate search incident to an arrest. To determine legitimacy, the court examined SCOTUS’s balancing test in Birchfield which weighed the compelling and legitimate state interest in curbing drunk driving against an individual’s privacy. Whereas preventing drunk driving is, indeed, a legitimate and compelling interest, such an interest was not narrow enough to supersede one’s privacy rights in being forced to submit to an intrusive chemical test.

In this case, even though the court held that a urine test was not as invasive as a blood test, the fact remained that a urine sample could provide sensitive information beyond BAC, such as personal medical information, for example. The court also held that forcing a urine sample could cause significant embarrassment and violate the defendant’s privacy rights.

Finally, due to the ready availability of breathalyzers and the fact that conducting a breath test is neither embarrassing nor privacy intrusive, the court held that if a urine test was necessary, the police could obtain a search warrant with the necessary probable cause.

Thus, whereas a Minnesota motorist must submit to a breath test if suspected of DUI/DWI without a warrant or face additional charges pursuant to the state’s implied consent law, police must obtain a warrant in order to conduct a blood or urine test.

For more information, or if you or a loved one are facing charges of DUI/DWI or refusal to submit to a chemical test, please contact us.

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