Pursuant to Minnesota law, DWI suspects who refuse a breath test are in violation of the state’s implied consent law which criminalizes such an act, subjecting the suspect to additional legal and administrative sanctions. Whereas once refusing to submit to a blood and/or urine test was also deemed in violation of the law, recent court rulings have determined that blood and/or urine tests require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant.
Normally, obtaining a search warrant is a long and tedious process. In the past, obtaining a search warrant required filling out an application along with an affidavit of probable cause specifying exactly what is to be searched and seized and also required a face-to-face meeting between a law enforcement officer and a judge.
However, now Minnesota law enforcement officers have a new tool to make getting a warrant for a DWI suspect easier. The eSearch Warrant is an express lane of sorts giving police officers almost instant results when dealing with DWI suspects.
Back in 2015, in State v. Bernard, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that an officer can, in fact, test a drunk driving suspect’s breath immediately, but a blood or urine test required a search warrant because of the greater intrusiveness of such tests and the fact that blood and urine contain significantly more personal and sensitive information. Since the only information law enforcement and prosecutors need in a DWI case is the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), breath tests which provide just that information remain the only test for which police need not obtain a warrant.
Then, in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Birchfield v. North Dakota that criminalizing refusal to submit to a blood or urine test was unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful searches and seizures.
The transition to eSearch Warrants began in October 2016 and, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the transition is now completed statewide.
Now, officers apply for search warrants electronically. The judge on call in the county at the time receives an electronic notification to log into the system where s/he can review the application and affidavit. The judge then responds in writing and calls the officer to finalize the warrant.
The BCA asserts that the transition to electronic search warrants became a priority after several court rulings held that drunk driving suspects may only be subjected to a blood or urine test if police obtain a search warrant. The warrant requirement does not apply to breath tests because breath tests are not as invasive as blood or urine tests.
Serving a Warrant
According to Minnesota law, search warrants must be served only between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.; however, courts have the power to authorize nighttime searches if a judge agrees that by waiting until morning, valuable evidence may be lost or destroyed or in cases where the search may be done more safely at night. With respect to DWI suspects, waiting until morning would undoubtedly result in the suspect’s blood alcohol content (BAC) decreasing, thus negating the officer’s legitimate case against him/her.
Benefits of the New System
The eSearch Warrant system enables law enforcement officers to process DWI suspects much more quickly, thus taking less time away from their other duties. Further, the system is part of a much larger “eCharging” system the BCA has been developing to enable better information sharing among police, prosecutors, and courts.
Adding to the convenience and speed of the eCharging system, judges across Minnesota can access the system even if they are not at the courthouse.