Appeal changes drunk driving enforcement
A recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision will have an impact on the way DWIs are handled in the future. Other recent court decisions have made the refusal crime of refusing a urine or blood test unconstitutional.
“It is always noteworthy when a court says that a statute is unconstitutional,” said Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh. “There is a strong presumption when the Legislature passes a statute that it is constitutional and the law of the land.”
McIntosh said this is going to tie up more officer time in seeking warrants. “It is going to create more confrontations between officers and people who have been arrested,” he said. “There are a lot of practical implications especially for the law enforcement agencies. The problem doesn’t go away just because of the courts issuing decisions. There’s still going to be law enforcement response and we’re still going to do everything we can to fight this problem.”
Over the past five years there has been litigation on the way DWIs are dealt with by law enforcement and how these people charged with the crime are prosecuted.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision dealing with the taking of tests without consent. “We really didn’t have that issue in Minnesota because we have the implied consent process where the person is asked if they want to provide a test or not,” McIntosh said. “Until this year, if they refused that test under an implied consent that the refusal itself was a crime. There have been challenges mounting to that in some years.”
An October 2015 decision issued by the Minnesota Court of Appeals said that the refusal crime for refusing a blood test was unconstitutional because it was essentially a person invoking their right to be free from an invasive search, McIntosh said.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has granted a review of the decision. That is still pending.
The most recent decision involved a Steele County case. It involved Ryan Thompson who was arrested in April 2012. He was charged with second-degree DWI for refusal to submit to a chemical test.
That decision was appealed and sought the same result for urine tests that had happened with blood tests. The Court of Appeals agreed that the refusal crime of refusing a urine test was unconstitutional.
Currently, because of the Supreme Court decisions, no refusal crime for blood or urine tests is unconstitutional. There is still a viable refusal crime for a breath test, McIntosh said.
“We have started the process to have the Supreme Court review the Thompson case,” McIntosh said. “We’re coordinating with different entities around the state because it is an issue of statewide importance.”
The Supreme Court will not automatically review it, but if it has to say if it is the type of case it wants to review the Supreme Court would review the merits of it.
Despite the decisions, persons can still be prosecuted for DWI if they are under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance. Now if a person refuses a blood or urine test, the refusal is no longer a crime.
“I think what they’ll have to do is seek search warrants to take samples,” McIntosh said. “That creates a lot more conflict between the person who has been arrested and the officer could just label it all a refusal, everyone kind of peacefully went on their way.”
McIntosh added that officers are going to have to find some way to proceed with the case if the person is impaired and creating a danger on the road. “They’re not going to stop pursuing those cases. We’re not going to stop pursuing either,” he said. “We’re just going to have to look at different means to go about it.”