The case involved an officer’s request for a breath sample after responding to a report that three intoxicated men were attempting to remove a boat at a boat launch. When police arrived at the scene, a witness told the officers that the driver’s truck had become stuck in the river while they were trying to pull their boat out. The witness also advised that the driver was in his underwear. As the officers approached, they found three men near a truck hanging over the edge of the pavement. One of those men, Bernard, was in his underwear and admitted that he had been drinking, as had the other two men. However, he denied driving the truck. Several witnesses identified Bernard as the driver and stated that he had been stumbling from the boat to his truck. The officers noted that Bernard had blood shot watery eyes, had breath that smelled of alcohol, and was holding the keys to the truck. Bernard refused to perform any field sobriety tests and was arrested on suspicion of DWI.
Police then advised Bernard that Minnesota law required him to take a chemical test and that refusal was a crime. Although he had the right to consult with an attorney, he could not unreasonably delay the administration of the test while given the opportunity to contact an attorney. Of note, Minnesota Statute § 169A.20, subd. 2 makes it a crime to refuse a test to assess blood alcohol content in situations where officers have probable cause to believe that an individual was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and that individual has been read the implied consent advisory. Bernard told the officer he did not need any more time to find a lawyer after he spoke with his mother and refused to take a breath test. Bernard was charged with two counts of test refusal and argued that the charges should have been dismissed because the statute made it a crime to refuse an unreasonable, warrantless search of his breath. In short, he maintained that the officers needed a warrant to obtain a breath sample.
Although he prevailed at the district court level, the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court rejected his arguments. The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed that police generally require a warrant to execute a search, but noted that there was an exception in this case. The court opined that officers can conduct a search without a warrant when the search is conducted incident to a lawful arrest. Under this exception, law enforcement can search a person who has been lawfully arrested to discover and seize the fruits or evidence of crime. As such, the court determined that a warrantless breath test is reasonable under the circumstances and does not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition of warrantless searches.
The Bernard decision is currently good law in Minnesota and it is presently unknown whether Bernard will seek further review from the United States Supreme Court. Regardless of whether the U.S. Supreme Court grants review, the decision leaves open challenges to request for blood or urine samples from officers. Moreover, it does nothing to preclude other long recognized challenges to DWI arrests and license revocations. As such, it is crucial to have an attorney who is capable of challenging law enforcement’s authority to stop suspects, institute arrests, and obtain breath, blood, or urine samples. Moreover, the Bernard decision does nothing to preclude individuals from challenging the reliability of the State’s test results.
The attorneys at Hansen Dordell handle DWI cases. If you or a loved one is charged with a DWI or is facing other consequences of impaired driving, call or e-mail an experienced criminal attorney at Hansen Dordell. 651-482-8900