The following case began back in October of 2012, when John Roy Drum was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Earlier that evening, an officer noticed that Drum’s car had a broken taillight and pulled Drum over. It didn’t take long for the officer to suspect that Drum had been drinking, saying that he noticed the smell of alcohol and Drum’s slurred speech. Drum himself admitted to drinking a couple of beers and was ordered out of the car.
Drum performed poorly on a series of field sobriety tests and failed a preliminary breath test. Drum was then placed under arrest and read the Minnesota Motor Vehicle Implied Consent Advisory, a statement that is meant to inform drunk driving suspects about their right to refuse to submit to a test to determine their BAC. Drum initially requested a lawyer, causing the officer to stop reading the statement, but later changed his mind and agreed to submit to the breath test. Ultimately, the test showed that Drum had been driving with a BAC of 0.14 percent, well in excess of Minnesota’s legal limit.
Drum was charged with DWI and attempted to exclude the breath test as evidence against him. Drum argued that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights by not securing a warrant to obtain the breath sample. The lower court agreed with Drum’s argument and held that the failure of the officer to obtain a search warrant amounted to a constitutional violation. The lower court’s decision relied on the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Missouri v. McNeely, concluding that there were no exigent circumstances which would prevent the state from complying with the warrant requirement laid out in that case.
Prosecutors appealed the decision, moving the case along to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court, deciding that evidence of the test should be admitted into evidence. The Court wrote that while a breath test might require a warrant in some cases, no warrant is needed when a suspect consents to a search. In this case, the Court concluded that Drum agreed to the breath test voluntarily, eliminating the need for the officer to first secure a search warrant.
Drum’s attorneys argued that while consent can be used as a basis for a search, in this case, Drum’s consent was not truly voluntary given Minnesota’s existing implied-consent law. The law in the state is punitive and criminalizes a decision to refuse to submit to a chemical test. Given this harsh choice, Drum’s lawyers argued that no consent could be voluntary, as drivers believe their only option is to submit to the test.
Though Drum’s argument was persuasive at the district court level, the appeals court disagreed; saying that a recent decision out of the Minnesota Supreme Court made clear that the state’s implied-consent law is not coercive. As a result, Drum’s voluntary consent is enough to justify the breath test and the case will be remanded for a new trial.
To read the full opinion, click here.