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Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality Of DWI Test Refusal Statute

In State v. Bernard, an opinion that came down on February 11, 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the validity of the so-called “test refusal” statute that imposes criminal penalties on motorists that refuse to provide law enforcement with a sample of their blood, breath, or urine in DWI cases. The opinion puts to rest months of uncertainty associated with whether the state and federal constitution allows the State to criminalize a motorist’s decision not to provide a chemical sample in a DWI investigation.

Minnesota law requires a motorist to provide a blood, breath, or urine sample to be tested for the presence of alcohol if a police officer has probable cause to believe a motorist violated the DWI statutes. A motorist that will not provide a sample is charged with a more serious “refusal” crime. The defendant in Bernard argued the constitutional prohibitions against an unreasonable search and seizure prohibited the state from requiring a motorist to allow for a search of their body for the presence of alcohol without a warrant. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed and held a warrantless search of a motorist’s breath is constitutional as a search incident to a valid arrest, and as such, a warrant would not be required. Additionally, the defendant argued due process principles prohibits the State from criminalizing an individual’s decision to refuse a search. Once again, the Court disagreed and held the test refusal statute is a reasonable means to a permissive objective, and as such, it does not violate due process under the United States or Minnesota Constitutions.