Minnesota’s Supreme Court released its long-awaited decision today regarding the state’s implied consent law. Implied consent laws across the country have been under attack since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Missouri case based on a warrantless blood draw back in 2013. Many hoped that the Minnesota Supreme Court would follow suit, tossing the state’s implied consent law as unconstitutional.
The case before the Supreme Court involves William Bernard Jr. and his 2012 arrest for refusing to submit to a breath test. Police initially received a tip that several impaired men had left a lake and piled into a pickup truck. When officers arrived, Bernard’s truck was stuck on the lake’s boat ramp and all the men smelled of alcohol. Though Bernard admitted to drinking, he said he wasn’t driving the truck and refused to submit to a BAC test, as the officers insisted. He was later charged with the two felony counts of refusal to submit to a chemical test.
The charges were dismissed by a lower court judge who specifically mentioned the recent Supreme Court case which drastically limited the ability of a police officer to take chemical tests of a suspected drunk driver without first securing a search warrant. Though the judge dismissed the case, he did not declare Minnesota’s implied consent law unconstitutional. The case then made its way before the state Court of Appeals, which reversed the earlier ruling. That left the Supreme Court to sort out the constitutionality of the law.
The Supreme Court ultimately held in a 5-2 decision that the implied consent law is constitutional, meaning that it is acceptable for Bernard, and others like him, to be criminally charged for refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine intoxication. Rather than view the implied consent law as authorizing warrantless searches, the Court decided that the test officers asked Bernard to submit to would have been constitutional as a search incident to a valid arrest. The Court notes that there was ample evidence for the police to establish probable cause to arrest Bernard for DWI. The breath test would then have been a valid search of his person and no more intrusive than other searches of the body that courts across the country allow. Thus, the chemical testing requirement is constitutional in cases where sufficient probable cause exists, even if the officer never actually secures a warrant.
The Court deemed the implied consent statute reasonable and said that they believe it serves a rational governmental purpose. The logic is that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a chemical test makes it easier to prosecute those suspected of drunk driving and thus makes the roadways safer for other motorists. Given what the Court sees as a compelling interest in ensuring the safety of Minnesota drivers, the implied consent measure will be allowed to continue unaltered.
Going forward, this means that Minnesota drivers can be arrested and charged with criminal acts for refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine their BAC. So long as the arresting officer has sufficient probable cause and believes a warrant could be justified, the search will be allowed, regardless of whether a warrant was ever actually secured.
To read the full opinion, click here.