The Broad Implications of the Supreme Court's Consolidation of Cases in Bernard v. Minnesota

Posted On January 29, 2016

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the United States Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality, in the DWI context, of warrantless chemical testing and criminal punishment for refusing such testing.

But do you realize the potential enormity of the Court's ruling in Bernard v. Minnesota?

The Supreme Court strives to confine its rulings to the specific legal issues in each case it reviews. The Court's consolidation of three cases in Bernard v. Minnesota sets the stage for an uncharacteristically broad ruling.

The two criminal cases, Bernard (breath) and Birchfield (blood), suggest that the Court will rule on the constitutionality of criminalizing DWI testing in general, because they involve both a breath and a blood test.

The third case, Beylund, provides a much broader legal scope. Beylund is a civil implied consent case involving licensing penalties imposed, upon conviction for DWI, based on a warrantless, coerced-consent blood test. Beylund allows the Court to consider a host of contentious issues: the "free and voluntary| nature of constitutional |consent| under the Fourth Amendment, the constitutionality of implied consent property (driver's license) deprivation, double jeopardy and double punishment due to the interplay between |civil| implied consent statutes and criminal DWI statutes, the "unconstitutional conditions" doctrine (can the state condition the right to drive on the surrender of constitutional rights?), and the constitutionality of legislative law that bypasses the Constitution.

Who knows, maybe the Court will even address the unintended legacy of South Dakota v. Neville: the categorical denial of Fifth Amendment/Miranda rights in the DWI context. (In 1983, the Neville Court found that a driver's submission to a warrantless blood test was not coerced because the driver waived his Miranda rights before the implied consent process, and because test refusal was not a crime.)

Call me a lawyer, but this is juicy stuffâ?¦