Minnesota Supreme Court: Warrantless Blood & Urine Testing Are Unconstitutional

This morning the Minnesota Supreme Court issued their decision in two DWI cases, State v. Trahan and State v. Thompson. Both cases involved a driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrest and dealt with the issue of whether Minnesota’s Test-Refusal Statue,  Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2 (2014), was constitutional. In Trahan, the driver refused to submit to a warrantless blood test and in Thompson the driver refused to submit to a warrantless urine test.

State v. Trahan

Earlier this year the United States Supreme Court decided Birchfield v. North Dakota, where the Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not permit the State to prosecute a driver for violating Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2 (2014), for refusing the blood test requested of him, absent the existence of a warrant or exigent circumstances. In this case the MN Supreme Court had to decide three issues: (1) Whether exigent circumstances existed to justify a warrantless blood test; (2) whether the good-faith exception justified a warrantless blood test; and (3) whether Trahan could be prosecuted for refusing an unconstitutional search.

“Exigent circumstances” is an exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. It applies when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Whether this exception applies is determined by examining the specific facts of each individual case. If exigent circumstances exist then a warrantless blood test would be constitutional. The State argued that because Trahan was uncooperative law enforcement was unable to get a search warrant within the required two-hour timeframe. The Court held that the State failed to meet its burden that exigent circumstances existed where obtaining a warrant would “significantly undermine the efficacy of the search.” Therefore, the exigent circumstances exception did not apply here.

The “good faith exception” does not require the suppression of illegally obtained evidence when the evidence is obtained in “reasonable reliance” on “binding appellate precedent” that “specifically authorizes a particular police practice” at the time of the search. Meaning that even if the search was unconstitutional the evidence would still be admissible if law enforcement was relying on the Court’s word that the search itself was authorized. The Court held that this exception does not apply to a test-refusal cases because there was no test for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) taken and therefore there is no evidence to exclude, or admit under the exception. This exception is not applicable.

Finally, the Court held that given the fact that there are no applicable exceptions to the warrant requirement, the warrantless search of Trahan’s blood would have been unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, consistent with Birchfield, the State cannot prosecute Trahan for refusing an unconstitutional search and the Test-Refusal Statute is unconstitutional as applied to him.

State v. Thompson

This case involved a urine test, rather than a blood test. The Court reached the same decision as in Trahan deciding that the good faith exception did not apply to urine testing and that based on Birchfield, Thompson could not be prosecuted for refusing an unconstitutional warrantless search of his urine. The unique issue in the case was whether the search-incident-to-arrest exception applied, allowing a warrantless urine test.

The “search incident to arrest” exception is a legal principle allowing law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search of an arrested person, and the area within the arrestee’s immediate control, in the interest of officer safety, the prevention of escape, and the destruction of evidence. In Birchfield, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a DWI breath test falls within this exception because it is minimally intrusive into a person’s privacy interests and will only reveal a person’s BAC. Here, the Court held that a urine test is much more like a blood test given the fact that it can reveal much more private information about a person beyond BAC. In addition, urinating is usually done in privacy, so having to urinate in front of an officer raises significant privacy concerns. For those reasons, the Court held that a warrantless urine test does not fall under the exception. Therefore, a warrantless urine test is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

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