Supreme Court Ruling Could Impact Minnesota DUI Procedure

CC image Wikipedia.orgThe United States Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that suspicion of driving under the influence is not grounds in and of itself for authorities to draw a blood sample from a suspect without first obtaining a warrant from a judge.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld a previous decision by the Missouri State Supreme Court which ruled a blood test without a warrant was only allowable:

  • In the event of an emergency, or
  • Under “contingent circumstances”

The ruling was in regards to the case Missouri v. McNeely, in which Tyler McNeely was pulled over for speeding.  Police suspected that McNeely had been drinking, but he refused to consent to a breathalyzer or blood test.  Authorities decided to obtain a blood sample from the defendant without waiting for a judge to approve the warrant.  The police said they were acting within their rights because they argued that the natural metabolization of alcohol into the bloodstream was enough of a contingent circumstance to warrant collecting the sample.

The U.S. Supreme court saw otherwise in the majority opinion.  They ruled that the metabolization of alcohol in the body is not enough of a reason to make an exception to the 4th Amendment, which protects a person against unreasonable search and seizure.

The court also noted in their ruling that law enforcement officials have plenty of ways to enforce DUI laws without the ability to obtain a warrantless blood sample.  They pointed to the Implied Consent rule, which states that a driver automatically forfeits their license if the refuse to take a BAC test.

Will Implied Consent laws be challenged?

Although the Implied Consent rule places restrictions on drivers who refuses a BAC test, Criminal Defense Attorney Geoff Saltzstein said this verdict could call that law into question.

“This decision has the potential to change the entire implied consent testing procedure in Minnesota by rendering warrantless searches of your person unconstitutional,” said Saltzstein.  “Prior decisions have based the reasoning behind warrantless searches to obtain blood samples on the evanescent nature of alcohol, but this decision clearly states that this reasoning can no longer stand alone.”

Saltzstein went on to say that proponents of the Implied Consent law will continue to hold onto the notion that driving is a “privilege”, but such laws would be egregious if you compared it to other liberties, like homeownership.

“If this reasoning is likened to homeownership, there is no court in this fine country of ours that would validate a search of a person’s home if it were based solely on a person’s implicit consent at the time of closing.”

In other words, Saltzstein questions why a person is subjected to penalties (loss of driver’s license) because they decide to exercise their 4th Amendment right.  If the police wanted to search your house for drugs, you can refuse entrance until they provide a warrant without fear of repercussions, yet those same standards do not appear to apply to a person if they are driving.

Saltzstein added that the ruling is a victory for personal liberties, and he is interested in looking into the potential of challenging the Implied Consent laws in the future.

Related source:  Lawyers.com

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Geoff Saltzstein, who became a partner at the Appelman Law Firm in January of 2013, has been with the team since the summer of 2010. He handles the firm’s federal drug and white-collar crime caseload, serious felonies such as criminal sexual conduct and drug possession cases, and high-level DWIs.
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5 thoughts on “Supreme Court Ruling Could Impact Minnesota DUI Procedure”

  1. Does this only apply to blood tests . What about breath test, urine and field sobriety test.

    1. Great question Daniel.

      McNeely itself was a blood test, but the US Supreme Court has vacated a DWI conviction in Minnesota based on a urine test, and sent it back to the Court of Appeals for findings consistent with McNealy. But even more importantly, the ruling strikes at the heart of our entire DWI schema, which certainly includes breath tests; and we will certainly get into a lengthier discussion of how and why all three types of tests are implicated in the coming weeks.

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