The Minnesota Supreme Court has again weighed into the issue of warrantless tests conducted on suspected drunk drivers. Only a few years ago, the Court held that a driver who had agreed to provide a blood or urine sample could be convicted even if the police officers never requested or received a valid warrant. In the current case, the issue concerns a driver who refused to give consent, a much more complicated and potentially important matter.
In this case, the Supreme Court is being asked to decide what should happen in cases where a suspected drunk driver is pulled over and asked to submit to a test to determine his or her BAC (breath, blood or urine) and refuses to do so. Should the officer then be required to get a warrant before conducting such a test or does the state’s existing implied consent law allow officers to perform warrantless searches on suspected drunk drivers?
According to a news report summarizing recent oral arguments, it appears as if the justices are highly skeptical of the argument that officers do not need to get a warrant before conducting such tests. Four of the seven justices at one point asked why police couldn’t just get a warrant, potentially indicating a critical view of the state’s position.
According to the government, the reason that warrants should not be required is that it would be too difficult and time-consuming to require law enforcement officers to get a warrant in each and every case. The argument is that with nearly 30,000 drunk driving arrests each year, officers would spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down warrants. Additionally, the government argues that time is critical in these cases and that if it takes a long time to obtain a warrant it’s possible that the alcohol in a person’s system could have diminished, effectively destroying crucial evidence.
The defendant in the case says that the reality is the constitution protects drivers from warrantless searches and that the only exceptions to this rule (officer safety and exigency) do not apply. The Fourth Amendment is clear that law enforcement must secure a warrant before conducting a search, a point that was bolstered in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Missouri v. McNeely, where the majority found that police must make all efforts to get a warrant before securing a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver if they want a conviction to be upheld.
Another issue that was raised during oral arguments is the fact that Minnesota is one of only 11 states that criminalize the refusal to submit to a test to determine alcohol, something the judges also appeared to take issue with. Several asked why existing administrative penalties that suspend a person’s license aren’t sufficient to encourage drivers to submit to the tests. The government responded by arguing that the penalties aren’t strong enough. The case will likely be decided, and the issue hopefully resolved once and for all, in the coming months.
Source: “Minnesota Supreme Court ponders whether a warrant should be required for alcohol tests,” by Rochelle Olson, published at StarTribune.com.