Will The United States Supreme Court Review Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law?

Posted On December 10, 2015 by Daniel Koewler

Unless this is the first time you've ever visited our blog, you're undoubtedly aware that one of the hottest topic in the area of DWI law is Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law, which effectively makes it a crime to refuse to submit to a warrantless search. You're probably also aware that under the current state of the law, it is unconstitutional to charge someone with test refusal if they refuse a blood test, but still constitutional if they refuse a breath test (guess which test is being offered most?).

The constitutionality of Minnesota's Test Refusal law is being presented to the United States Supreme Court in the case of State v. Bernard (and several other appeals from both Minnesota and North Dakota, which also has a test refusal law), and SCOTUS may tell us that they are accepting review as soon as this coming Monday.

Here's the update: the highly prestigious SCOTUS Blog just listed the Bernard petition as one of their "petitions to watch." Here's what they had to say about the slew of test refusal petitions being presented to the Supreme Court:

Next, let's kill thirteen birds with two (three?) stones. Up for consideration last Friday were a coven of cases all presenting the same question: whether, in the absence of a warrant, a state may make it a crime for someone to refuse to take a chemical test to detect the presence of alcohol in his blood. The two lead cases in the group â?? Bernard v. Minnesota, 14-1470, and Birchfield v. North Dakota, 14-1468 â?? challenge laws from Minnesota and North Dakota (respectively), which are among the thirteen states that make it a crime to refuse a test for blood-alcohol content. The petitioner inBernard, who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after he got his truck stuck in a river (although the officers likely had probable cause to believe he was intoxicated based solely on the fact that he'd been boating), was later charged with first-degree test refusal which, in Minnesota, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years' imprisonment (!). Bernard argued that imposing criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a warrantless breath test violated the Fourth Amendment, but a divided Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, reasoning that a warrantless breath test would have been reasonable in Bernard's case as "a search incident to [his] valid arrest.| Bernard claims (not without force) that this ruling is |shockingly wrong,| and |untethers the search-incident-to-arrest exception . . . from [its] rationale.| The petitioner in Birchfield failed a field sobriety test administered after he drove his car off the road, and similarly refused to submit to a chemical blood-alcohol test. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed Birchfield's conviction on the grounds that first, attaching criminal penalties to test refusal in this context is, as a general matter, reasonable; and second, that the entitlement to drive may be conditioned on the driver's |deemed agreement to consent to a chemical test.| The Birchfield petition asks the Court to grant review and consolidate it with Bernard. |Alternatively,| the petition continues, |the Court should grant review in Bernard and hold the petition in this case pending disposition of that matter.|

If you had any notion that this issue arises infrequently, there are ten other cases from Minnesota or North Dakota lined up that raise the same issue, which we list here to demonstrate the diversity of surnames in the Upper Midwest: Manska v. Minnesota, 14-9861; Isaacson v. Minnesota, 15-5315;Mawolo v. Minnesota, 15-5307; Washburn v. North Dakota, 14-1469; Baxter v. North Dakota, 15-243; Beylund v. North Dakota, 14-1506; Harns v. North Dakota, 14-1512; Beylund v. Levi, 14-1507;Culver v. Levi, 14-1508; and Wojahn v. Levi, 15-129. From slightly to the south and east comesGaede v. Illinois, 14-10423, which presents a similar issue. Illinois does not criminalize a person's refusal to submit to a chemical test, but evidence of refusal is admissible |in any civil or criminal action or proceeding arising out of the acts alleged to have been committed while the person is under the influence.|