U.S. Supreme Court Weighs in on Minnesota Drunk Driving Laws
Like many states, Minnesota has an “implied consent law” requiring drivers suspected of driving under the influence to submit to a chemical test of their blood, breath, or urine. Minnesota law makes it a crime for a person to refuse to take a chemical test. Forcing a person to consent to a chemical test (a search under the Fourth Amendment) by threatening criminal penalties has been the source of much debate in recent years. Defendants argue that these laws are unconstitutional without a warrant. Prosecutors argue that various exceptions to the warrant requirement apply.
In the recent opinion Birchfield v. North Dakota, which included the Minnesota companion case Bernard v. Minnesota, the U.S. Supreme Court finally weighed in on the debate. The Supreme Court held that criminal penalties cannot be assessed against a person for refusing a blood test. But criminal penalties can be assessed against a person for refusing a breath test.
The Birchfield decision declares part of Minnesota’s implied consent law unconstitutional. Now, police officers must obtain a warrant or valid consent to get a blood test. Consent can no longer be obtained through the threat of criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. The breath test remains valid, however, so no warrant is required and a person can still be charged with a crime for refusing to consent to a breath test. Expect changes to the implied consent advisory and perhaps new legislation implementing civil penalties for one’s refusal to submit to a blood test. The Supreme Court did not take a position on urine tests, but that question is currently pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court. Birchfield may very well guide that decision.
This webpage contains general information and not legal advice. It is based on Minnesota law in effect at the time of writing. An attorney at Farrish Johnson can advise you about how the law applies to your specific situation.