In a recent case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals yet again tackled the issue of warrantless tests to determine intoxication, ultimately upholding the conviction of Stephanie Ann Taylor, a woman who was forced to provide a urine sample to police without a valid search warrant.
The case began when Taylor was spotted asleep in the driver’s seat of her car, which was stopped in the middle of the road. A police officer woke Taylor and inquired about her condition. Taylor said that she had not had anything to drink, but had taken several prescription medications including Valium. The officer then conducted a breath test, which showed a BAC of 0.0 percent. However, Taylor failed nearly every field sobriety test she was asked to perform, leading the officer to arrest her for driving while impaired.
Once Taylor arrived at the local police station, the officer read an implied-consent notice informing her of her right to an attorney and that a refusal to submit to a chemical test to determine impairment is a crime and that unreasonable delays in providing a sample would be deemed a refusal. Taylor then said she would agree to the urine test and did not need to talk to a lawyer beforehand.
Taylor was taken to a cell to provide the urine sample, but because no female officers were on duty that evening, the male arresting officer said he would have to observe the test, something that alarmed Taylor. Taylor sat on a toilet in the cell for more than 30 minutes attempting to urinate, saying that she was unable to do so. The male officer remained about six feet away from Taylor the whole time and tried to angle himself to face away from the woman. After 31 minutes elapsed, the officer said that Taylor would not be given any more time and that she would be viewed as having refused to submit to the test.
Taylor was then offered a chance to submit to a blood test, something she refused. As a result, she was charged with first-degree refusal. Taylor argued before the district court judge that evidence of her urine test should be thrown out given that the attempt to collect her urine without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment and also because the method of collection with the male officer monitoring her infringed on her privacy rights. The judge denied Taylor’s request and she was ultimately convicted.
Taylor appealed the case and the Court of Appeals said that it is true that officers must usually have a warrant to conduct a chemical test meant to determine a driver’s level of impairment. The Court made clear that arguments based on the urgent need to act before alcohol dissipates in the blood is not, by itself, a valid reason to conduct warrantless searches. However, in this case, the Court found that a warrant was not needed because the officer obtained the consent of the subject. The Court held that Taylor was never coerced into agreeing to provide the urine sample and that her consent was enough to overcome the usual warrant requirement.
With regard to Taylor’s second complaint, about the manner in which the search was conducted, the Court said that the way the officer handled the matter was not unreasonable. The Court said that though there may have been an intrusion on Taylor’s expectation of privacy, the intrusion was minor compared to the government’s interest in keeping impaired drivers off the road. The Court also said that although having a female officer monitor the test would have been preferable, there is no constitutional right to have a member of the same sex monitor a urine sample.
To read the full opinion, click here.