In late December, a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the state cannot criminally drivers who refuse to submit to a warrantless urine test. This ruling came on the heels of a decision earlier in the year which ruled that the state could not prosecute drivers who refused to submit to blood tests. Minnesota is one of a small number of states that attempted to curtail drunk driving with criminal prosecutions of individuals who refused these tests. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to review the state’s laws, and a decision on the ultimate constitutionality of those laws is expected before the end of the Court’s current term, in June.
These cases have put Minnesota in the national spotlight over the question of how far a state can go to stop drunk driving. In the latter of these cases, the defendant, police stopped the defendant, Ryan Thompson, after observing his car jumping a curb, making a tight turn, and going over a center line as he left a parking lot. The officer who stopped him detected a strong alcohol aroma. That officer also stated that the defendant’s eyes appeared “glassy”. Mr. Thompson claimed that he had only one glass of beer, but he failed a field sobriety test. When he refused to submit to a urine test, he was charged and later convicted of a second degree felony of refusing to take the test.
The Minnesota appellate court reversed his conviction, stating that a warrantless urine test violated the defendant’s “fundamental right to be free from unconstitutional searches.” The court also noted that the state could not justify warrantless tests under an exception for searches that are incident to arrests because “a driver must produce a urine sample in front of an officer [and] a urine test is unquestionably more intrusive than a breath test”.
It is not surprising that this decision and the earlier decision that is under review before the Supreme Court are drawing national attention. Anti-drunk driving advocates continue to be vocal about the steps that are needed to keep intoxicated drivers off the road. Those advocates, however, are facing a growing chorus of libertarians and civil rights proponents who perceive law enforcement personnel who are exceeding their constitutional authority to challenge individuals who are suspected of having committed a crime. States can continue to criminalize activity like drunk driving, but they can do so only within the narrow bounds of the Constitution.
If you have been charged with a DWI offense in the state of Minnesota, an experienced Minneapolis DWI Lawyer can confirm that the state is not exceeding your rights under the Constitution. Please contact us as soon as you can after you have been charged for a consultation and a review of the facts of your case. We have successfully defended numerous individuals whose rights were at risk due to DWI charges, and we are poised and ready to do the same for you.