Minnesota’s DWI Test Refusal

Just Saying No: The Limits of Warrantless Searches

A case involving Minnesota’s DWI test refusal statute could yield a major 4th Amendment decision from the United States Supreme Court

0216-Police-DWIMinnesota is one of a handful of U.S. states that have criminalized the refusal to submit to a warrantless search in suspected DUI cases. This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will review a Minnesota case as it determines whether states can make refusing to submit to a warrantless search a criminal act.

Minnesota is in the national spotlight, and in a very big way. This term we expect the United States Supreme Court to issue a major decision regarding the scope of the 4th Amendment warrant requirement, and the Court is using a Minnesota case to reach its decision: Bernard v. Minnesota.

It was the signed confession from a suspected rapist in Arizona that led the Court to issue its watershed decision regarding coerced confessions in Miranda v. Arizona.1 It was Illinois’ decision to relentlessly interrogate a suspected murderer for over 14 hours, while repeatedly denying his attorney’s demands to be present, that led the Court to issue its watershed decision regarding the right to counsel in Escobedo v. Illinois.2 When North Carolina went looking for a weapon used in a reported rape, and claimed that they found it during a “consensual” search despite the fact that the homeowner had been told that she had no right to refuse the search, the Court took the opportunity to reject “consensual” searches in the face of bald claims of lawful authority. That one was Bumper v. North Carolina.3

Why is a Minnesota case drawing such scrutiny from the Supreme Court? Bernard is a case about a drunk driver who refused to submit to an in-custody, warrantless search of his breath. Minnesota, not content to use the fact of his refusal against him as “consciousness of guilt” evidence at trial (something permitted since South Dakota v. Neville4), went one step further and criminalized the very act of refusing to submit to a warrantless search. This term, the Supreme Court is going to answer one broad question and one narrow one. The broad one is simply “can the states make refusing to submit to a warrantless search a criminal act?” The narrow question is closely tied to Minnesota’s (latest) rationale for claiming our test refusal crime is constitutional, and involves treating a breath alcohol concentration test as a “search incident to arrest” and therefore a search that is unprotected by the 4th Amendment.

Continue Reading: http://mnbenchbar.com/2016/02/warrantless-searches/

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