Another Shot Fired Over the Constitutionality of Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law

Posted On May 19, 2014 by Daniel Koewler

Minnesota is one of very few states that make it a crime to refuse to submit to a DWI test - the vast majority of states simply impose a longer license revocation against drivers who refuse. Minnesota's rare and troubling practice - making refusal to submit to a warrantless search an independent crime - appears to be unconstitutional. That appearance is causing a major conflict between defense attorneys and prosecutors, between prosecutors and cops . . . and also between Minnesota judges and other Minnesota judges.

Is it constitutional to put someone in jail for refusing to submit to a warrantless search and seizure? This is the question that has plagued Minnesota courts for over a decade, and it is a question that is quickly coming to a head. The Minnesota Supreme Court is in a position to answer that question once and for all later this year.

But in the meantime, Minnesota's DWI law is in a state of pure turmoil. In the past year, many district court judges around the state have concluded that the crime of test refusal is unconstitutional. After judges started declaring the law unconstitutional, the Minnesota Court of Appeals stepped in and in the case of State v. Bernard, crafted a brand-new doctrine that appeared to make the crime of test refusal legal. This Bernard decision was famously ignored by at least one judge who was completely unpersuaded by the newly crafted "inevitable warrant" doctrine.

Today, the Court of Appeals issued another decision finding the test refusal law constitutional, in the unpublished case of State v. Mawolo. And while it was completely expected for the Court of Appeals to follow the logic of the recently issued Bernard case, what was completely unexpected was to see another judge step up and proclaim, in effect, "we are getting this wrong, and we need to fix it before it's too late."

That is a paraphrase from the dissent in the Mawolo case, where one member of the three judge panel made it clear that "the analysis in Bernard" was "flawed" because it "creates an exception that renders the Fourth Amendment meaningless . . ." I highly suggest reading the whole dissent - it is both scholarly and very much to-the-point.

This likely will not be the last judge to openly defy the holding in the Bernard decision, and with every new voice in opposition, the constitutional crises in Minnesota deepens.