Posted: October 13, 2015
Just moments ago, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued its decision in State v. Trahan. The court determined that prosecuting a driver for test refusal violates the constitutional right to due process of law when a blood test was refused. The decision calls into question all DWI cases involving blood tests, or refusals to submit to blood tests. The dust has yet to settle, but this case could have implications in many pending and future DWI prosecutions.
“We conclude that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test ‘relates to the state’s ability to prosecute drunk drivers and keep Minnesota roads safe,’ Bernard, 859 N.W.2d at 774, but it is not precisely tailored to serve that compelling state interest. It therefore fails strict-scrutiny review.” State v. Trahan, A13-0931 (Minn. Ct. App. October 13, 2015).
In a series of decisions, including Brooks and Bernard, Minnesota’s courts have curtailed the constitutional rights afforded to suspected drunk drivers. The courts have determined that DWI suspects “consent” to testing, even while threatened with prosecution for test refusal. Further, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently determined that DWI breath tests are valid searches “incident to arrest,” even though the search incident to arrest exception to the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure has never before been applied in such a way. Today the court has changed course and finally recognized the constitutional problem with criminalizing refusal to submit to a warrantless search.