On December 11, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the Minnesota law that makes it a crime for a DWI suspect to refuse to take a breath test. The State’s DWI Test Refusal Law imposes a three-year mandatory prison term on persons who refuse to give a breath test when stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. A Minneapolis DWI Lawyer describes the Supreme Court challenge and the case that gave rise to that challenge.
William Bernard was arrested in Minnesota in 2012 after his truck became stuck while he attempted to pull his boat out of a river. The arresting officers noted a strong alcohol smell on Bernard’s breath. Bernard admitted that he had been drinking but reported that someone else had been driving his truck. After Bernard refused to take a chemical test for alcohol, he was charged with two counts of first degree test refusal under the Minnesota statute. He sought to have the charges against him dismissed on 4th Amendment Constitutional grounds, arguing that the test comprised an unreasonable and warrantless search. The case was first dismissed when a district court rules that the police had no lawful basis to search Bernard without a warrant. The State’s court of appeals later reversed the dismissal, and a divided Minnesota State Supreme Court affirmed that reversal. On December 11, 2015, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Bernard’s challenge and a parallel challenge to a similar North Dakota law.
Until the US Supreme Court issues its opinion on the Constitutionality of Minnesota’s DWI test refusal law, persons who are arrested for DWI in the Minnesota remain subject to the law. Refusal to consent to a breath test can result in felony charges and significant jail time. The Supreme Court has not yet entertained oral arguments over the law and it is too soon to tell whether it will be sustained or stricken. When Minnesota’s Supreme Court issued its opinion, it stated that criminalizing a refusal to take a breath test furthered the State’s interest in maintaining public safety. The dissent in that opinion, however, noted that “the search in this case was not a valid warrantless search, and the State may not constitutionally convict persons who exercise their constitutional right to insist that police obtain a warrant.” It remains to be seen whether the US Supreme Court agrees with the public safety aspect of the majority opinion or the warrantless search aspect of the dissent.
Arresting officers and other civil authorities can be quick to abrogate a person’s Constitutional rights when they have even the slightest suspicion that a crime is being committed. If you have been arrested for DWI, please contact us for a consultation on how we can protect your rights and prevent the authorities from taking those rights away.