"Your rights are no good here."

Posted On June 15, 2015

I think I know how the drafters of Magna Carta felt.

I was on call this weekend, taking late night calls from drivers arrested for DWI. It's common for an arrestee to ask,

How can the police do this? I thought I had rights under the Constitution. They're telling me that I have to give them blood or urine because it's a crime not to. They won't even honor my right to remain silent. I don't understand.

I think to myself, "Yeah, but those rights are no good here."

I tell the arrestee,

You're right. In most other states you would have the right to a warrant, and you could remain silent, or refuse to give evidence, without automatically being charged with another crime.

Unfortunately, in the DWI context, Minnesota isn't like other states. Here, in your situation, it is a crime to exercise those rights. In Minnesota, the only way to not incriminate yourself for the crime of test refusal is to surrender your right to a warrant from a judge, and submit to a warrantless search.

Without fail, after the call, I sit at my kitchen table and think, "Are we officially back at square one?" Have we regressed to pre-Magna Carta times?

The constitutional right we value the mostâ??no deprivations of life, liberty, or property without due process of lawâ??began with Magna Carta. According to Chief Justice John Roberts, Magna Carta "laid the foundation for the ascent of liberty| and constitutional democracy.

In a nutshell, 800 years ago in England, King John was a tyrant. He took property and inflicted punishment without rhyme or reason because, as he famously said, |The law is in my mouth.|

On June 15, 1215, English barons presented King John with a written ultimatum, Magna Carta. They demanded legal certainty and fairness, a rational system of common laws, and the guarantee that judgment and punishment would be meted out by their peers based on evidence, and not arbitrarily from the throne. King John agreed to the barons' terms (for about 3 months).

Magna Carta's 800th anniversary couldn't have come at a better time for Minnesota. I'm looking forward to being able to tell arrestees, "your constitutional rights are good here," and then going back to sleep.