MinnesotaPinMinnesota’s “implied consent” law (Minn. Stat. sec. 169A.20, subd. 2) criminalized motorists who refused to take a breath, blood, or urine test if suspected of driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. However, two new MN Supreme Court cases with regard to the refusal of blood and urine testing have determined that criminalizing the refusal of a blood or urine test violated the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure, as well as their due process rights under Minnesota and the U.S. Constitutions.

Following Birchfield v. North Dakota in which the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) held that—without exigent circumstances—requiring a driver to take a warrantless blood or urine test or be prosecuted violated his or her Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure, the Minnesota Supreme Court followed suit and addressed the law’s constitutionality in State v. Thompson and State v. Trahan and determined that it was still a crime to refuse to submit to a breath test because breath tests do not place an unreasonable burden on the motorist and said tests are not intrusive; however, blood and urine tests were different.

State v. Thompson

Per Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s opinion, the court held that a warrantless urine test was unconstitutional as a legitimate search incident to an arrest. The court cited Birchfield in which SCOTUS prescribed a test to balance the intrusion upon the individual’s privacy against a compelling and legitimate state interest. Granted, whereas preventing drunk driving and apprehending those who do, in fact, drive while intoxicated is a compelling government interest, it was not narrowly construed enough to supersede an individual’s privacy rights. The balancing test examined the extent and intent of the physical intrusion, whether the potential evidence would provide additional and unrelated information in the case, and whether the search would “enhance the embarrassment of the arrest.” Even though Birchfield dealt specifically with warrantless blood tests, the Minnesota court held that this unconstitutionality extended to warrantless urine tests.

The court discussed that even though a urine test was not as invasive as a blood test, the sample obtained could provide information beyond blood alcohol content (BAC) such as personal medical information and the sample could also be unlawfully retained. Further, a urine sample invades a subject’s privacy and could cause significant embarrassment—much more so than a blood test.

Because the urine test was not narrowly tailored enough to serve a compelling government interest and the embarrassment and intrusiveness to Thompson would have been substantial, criminalizing his refusal violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures, as well as his right to due process under both the Minnesota Constitution and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Further, because breath tests are readily available—and the police could obtain a legitimate search warrant with requisite probable cause—the intrusive urine test violated Thompson’s constitutional rights.

State v. Trahan

In Trahan, like Birchfield, the issue was the refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test. In Birchfield, SCOTUS held that criminalizing a blood test refusal violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights without a warrant or exigent circumstances. In Minnesota, exigent circumstances exist if:

  1. The officer objectively and reasonably believed he was facing an emergency
  2. Where a delay from having to secure a warrant would “significantly undermine the efficacy of the search”
  3. Based on the facts of the case at the time.

Based on the facts in Trahan, there was no exigency. The Minnesota court relied on Missouri v. McNeely (2013) in which SCOTUS held that normal alcohol dissipation does not cause an exigency in and of itself. Since Trahan had been in police custody for over two hours, and that he would have to be taken to the hospital for the blood draw, there was ample time for officers to secure a warrant. Thus, similar to Thompson, the blood test was not narrowly tailored enough and violated Trahan’s protection against unlawful searches and seizures as well as his right to due process.

The court also held that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary was inapplicable as the defendant was not attempting to exclude any evidence.