U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take an appeal filed by William Bernard, Jr., challenging Minnesota’s refusal law which makes it a criminal offense to refuse a police officer’s request to take a chemical test to detect the presence of alcohol in the blood. Bernard is appealing a decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of the refusal law under the Fourth Amendment. His case arises out of an incident in 2012 when Bernard was arrested by Minnesota police officers on suspicion of driving while impaired (DWI). The officers later asked Bernard to take an evidentiary breath test, and when he refused, he was charged with the crime of refusal.On December 11, 2015, the
Minnesota’s test refusal law is not unique – thirteen other states have criminalized the refusal to submit to a warrantless chemical test administered to persons who are arrested on suspicion of DWI. Under this law, the crime of refusal is independent from the actual DWI offense and a person may be convicted of criminal refusal even if there is no DWI charge. Additionally, the criminal penalties for violating Minnesota’s refusal law may even be more severe that the actual DWI offense. A first time criminal refusal charge is a gross misdemeanor, and a conviction carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail fine of up to $3,000. In addition to criminal penalties, refusal can also result in revocation of a driver’s license for one year.
The refusal law is based on Minnesota’s implied consent scheme for DWI offenses. Because implied consent is the law in the state, a person who drives, operates, or is in control of a vehicle anywhere in Minnesota has consented to a chemical test of breath, blood, or urine to determine the presence of alcohol. When a police officer observes driving behavior that appears impaired and reasonably suspects DWI, the driver is usually stopped and questioned. The officer may then decide to administer a standard field sobriety test and a preliminary breath test. Drivers are not required to take this preliminary test. If they refuse to do so, and the officer has probable cause to believe that a DWI offense has taken place, it is likely that the officer will make an arrest to conduct more rigorous testing.
Prior to any chemical testing, the officer is required by law to read the implied consent advisory statement to the individual. The advisory explains that testing is mandatory under the law, refusing to do so is a crime, and that the person has the right to consult an attorney before taking the test as long as it doesn’t unreasonably delay the test. At this point, if the arrested person refuses to take the chemical test, then he or she may be charged with the crime of refusal under Minnesota’s criminal refusal law.
Bernard’s case is one of three cases that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear that challenges statutes that criminalize the refusal to take a blood or breath test for DWI. The other two cases arise out of North Dakota and involve a law that allows the state to prosecute for refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine alcohol concentration levels. The North Dakota refusal law carries the same criminal penalties as a conviction for DWI. The Court’s ruling on these cases can have lasting implications, not only on the future of criminal refusal laws across the country, but ultimately on the constitutional limits to warrantless searches and seizures by the police.
Until the Supreme Court rules on this issue, Minnesota’s refusal statute remains the prevailing law in the state. If you have been taken into custody for driving while impaired in Bloomington or Minneapolis, Kans Law Firm, LLC can advocate for your rights and help you choose the best defense. To schedule a free initial consultation, call the Kans Law Firm, LLC today at (952) 835-6314.