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Will Your DWI Alcohol Test Be Thrown Out? – McNeely & Brooks

by Oct 16, 2013Criminal Defense Attorney, DWI / DUI, Sam Edmunds

Minnesota police conduct warrantless tests in DWI and DUI cases.

Minnesota police conduct warrantless tests in DWI and DUI cases.

DWI law in Minnesota is truly up in the air. On April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Missouri v. McNeely and its impact is being felt all across the country, especially in Minnesota. The Court held that law enforcement had violated McNeely’s Constitutional rights by forcing a blood draw alcohol concentration test without consent and without first obtaining a search warrant. The Court found that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood could not serve as a single factor exigency to support the warrantless search.

The Supreme Court has long held that police searches are per se unreasonable unless supported by a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement. Most judges and attorneys agree that blood, urine, and breath tests are “searches” for Fourth Amendment purposes. So now the argument goes that warrantless alcohol tests in DWI cases should be thrown out because they violate the Fourth Amendment.

Here in Minnesota, we have an “Implied Consent” statutory scheme, where the law states that every driver impliedly consents to alcohol concentration testing if suspected of drunk driving. Prosecutors across the state are arguing that this “consent” serves as a valid exception to the Constitutional search warrant requirement.

Luckily, the Minnesota Supreme Court has granted “accelerated” review of State v. Brooks, A11-1042 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012) and State v. Brooks, A11-1043 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012). Brooks involves three consolidated cases of the same defendant – two urine tests and one blood test. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the warrantless tests based on State v. Shriner and State v. Netland, i.e. the searches were “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment because of exigent circumstances and the defendant’s “consent” was not unlawfully coerced because the defendant had no right to refuse a search that was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Brooks on September 11, 2013. Now the court must decide:

  • If not exigent circumstances, then how does the government support the warrantless testing scheme in DWI investigations?
  • Do drivers impliedly consent to testing at the moment that they obtain a driver’s license and get behind the wheel?
  • Is consenting under threat of criminal prosecution sufficiently voluntary to satisfy the Fourth Amendment?
  • Can the government condition a privilege like driving on the surrendering of a constitutional right?
  • What about refusal cases? Can a defendant claim warrantless search when no search was conducted, i.e. is Minnesota’s Implied Consent law unconstitutional now?

We don’t know whether the Minnesota Supreme Court will answer all of these questions and what impact the Brooks decision will have on Minnesota DWI law and DWI cases pending in the district courts. The one thing we do know is that Minnesota’s DWI laws are all up in the air until we see the Brooks decision.

Contact the attorneys at Sieben Edmunds PLLC for more information.


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