MN Appellate Courts: Landmark DWI Refusal Law Applies Retroactively

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Recently, Minnesota appellate courts have decided that the landmark DWI refusal law (Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016)) applies retroactively to convictions for the offense. Simply put, this means that a defendant convicted before 2016 for refusing a warrantless blood or urine test may be eligible for post-conviction relief. Keep reading to learn more from our experts at Rogosheske, Rogosheske & Atkins, PLLC.

The Fourth Amendment and DWI Chemical Testing

According to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, law enforcement officials cannot search an individual's person or property without first having obtained a warrant. However, exceptions to this doctrine exist, including searches incident to a lawful arrest and when exigent circumstances are present (meaning immediate action is needed to prevent harm to or destruction of evidence).

In DWI matters, a person may be subject to a blood, breath, or urine test to determine the level of alcohol in their system. Although such chemical tests constitute a search of a person, it has been argued until recently that they are exempt from requiring a warrant because they fall under one of the two exceptions.

However, this position has been recently challenged.

Challenging the Legality of Chemical Testing for DWI Cases

Missouri v. McNeely

In Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013), the U.S. Supreme upheld that the per se exigent circumstances exception was invalid in matters concerning warrantless chemical testing. The court also stated that the dissipation of alcohol over time does not justify a warrantless blood draw, and the totality of the situation must be considered when determining whether urgency existed.

Birchfield DWI Cases

Second, in Birchfield, the appellant argued that criminal prosecution for a blood or urine test refusal was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment because no exception to the warrant requirement applied. Birchfield had been arrested for DWI. At the time of his arrest, the officer informed him of North Dakota's implied consent law and the criminal penalties he could face for refusal. He declined to take the test and plead guilty to a misdemeanor refusal charge.

After his request for post-conviction relief for the chemical test refusal was denied, he appealed the decision. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to submit a person to a warrantless blood test and criminally punish them if they refused, as these are more intrusive assessments than a breath test.

The Supreme Court concluded that no justifiable reason exists to subject a person to a blood test when a breath test is available. Thus, the search-incident-to-arrest exception may be applicable to breath tests but not blood tests.

MN Appellate Courts Decide Rulings Apply Retroactively

Much of the discussion regarding chemical testing during DWI charges has recently been resolved with the result of Hagerman v. State, N.W.2d (Minn.App.2020). A Minnesota appellate court decided that "the Birchfield rule," as well as McNeely, applied to DWI refusal cases that concluded before the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on either matter.

In Hagerman, the appellant was convicted of third-degree test refusal in 2011. In 2017, he sought post-conviction relief, arguing that his conviction, based on a refusal of a warrantless blood draw, was unconstitutional.

Although a district court initially rejected his appeal, the appellate court decided that McNeely applied through Birchfield was retroactive and reversed the denial. In other words, a defendant may be entitled to post-conviction relief from a test refusal conviction because they stand convicted of an act the law does not make criminal – it is no longer a crime, for the most part, to refuse a warrentless blood or urine search.

DWI Attorneys in St. Paul

If you were charged with or convicted of a DWI offense in St. Paul, schedule a free consultation with Rogosheske, Rogosheske & Atkins, PLLC to discuss your legal options. Call (651) 413-9004 or submit an online contact form today.

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