The Impact of Birchfield v North Dakota (Bernard)
There has been a lot of uncertainty regarding Minnesota’s DWI laws since the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) granted review of three DWI cases in December of 2015. The three cases that were granted review were Birchfield v. North Dakota, Beylund v. Levi (Out of North Dakota), and Bernard v. Minnesota. The issue in these cases was whether or not the state can charge an individual arrested for DWI with refusal to submit to a chemical test in the absence of a warrant.
Both Birchfield and Beylund were cases that involved blood testing, while Bernard involved breath testing. On June 23, 2016 SCOTUS finally released its decision. While the ruling was good for certain DWI arrestees, it solidified Minnesota’s current DWI laws in regards to breath testing.
Prior to this decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided two cases, State v. Trahan and State v. Thompson. In those cases the court ruled that an individual could not be charged with refusal if they submitted to a warrantless blood or urine test. With the decision from SCOTUS in Birchfield, that case law has been solidified in regards to blood testing. SCOTUS confirmed that it is unconstitutional to charge an individual with refusal if the individual refuses to submit to a warrantless blood test.
Their reasoning was that a blood test is intrusive, in that it requires a needle to be inserted into an individual’s arm and for blood to be withdrawn from their body, something that does not leave an individual’s body on a regular basis.
While SCOTUS did not address whether or not urine falls in the same category, there are some parallels that can be drawn between blood and urine. While urine does regularly leave the body, it generally does not happen in front of other people. Rather, it occurs in the privacy of a bathroom.
Once, an individual is done urinating, the urine is then generally disposed of by flushing it down the toilet. When an individual is asked to submit to a urine test, they are required to urinate in front of an officer and the urine is deposited in a cup, rather than flushed down the toilet. This is very similar to blood testing, and involves the same privacy interests. Since SCOTUS did not decide on urine, the answer to the question of the constitutionality of charging an individual with refusal if they refuse a warrantless urine test will be solidified by the Minnesota Supreme Court when it decides on Thompson. As of now, the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision in Thompson is the controlling law, and an individual cannot be charged with refusal for this.
SCOTUS also vacated the judgement of the North Dakota Supreme Court in Beylund. In that case, the individual agreed to take the blood test after being told that refusal to take a test was a crime. SCOTUS sent that case back to the North Dakota Supreme Court for reevaluation in light of the decision that an individual cannot be charged with refusal if they submit to a warrantless blood test. The North Dakota Supreme Court will have to decide if Beylund’s “consent” to take the blood test was valid, seeing as he was under the impression that he would be charged with a crime if he refused.
As far as breath testing goes, SCOTUS rejected the idea that a breath test was invasive enough to require a warrant prior to charging an individual with refusal. Their reasoning is that a breath regularly leaves the body. Individuals are constantly exhaling just to stay alive. They ruled that a breath test is a valid search incident to arrest, which means that a warrant is not required prior to demanding that an individual takes a test, and that if that individual refuses the test it is okay to charge them with the more serious charge of refusal.
While it is disappointing that SCOTUS did not require a warrant for breath tests, an individual charged with DWI should still consult with an attorney on any kind of testing. There are many issues that can be present in a criminal case, and it is in your best interest to have a skilled attorney to fight on behalf of your rights.
By Cody Wright, Attorney at Kans Law Firm, LLC