The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking decision on October 13, 2015, holding that Minnesota Statute § 169A.20, Subd. 2, as applied to refusal of a warrantless blood test, violates a driver’s right to due process under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. State v. Trahan, __ N.W.2d __, (Minn. Ct. App. 2015).
The defendant in Trahan was arrested for suspected DWI and driving with a cancelled license due to his history of multiple previous DWI convictions. Defendant was later presented with his choice between a blood or urine test pursuant to the Minnesota Implied Consent Law. There was a dispute over whether the defendant agreed to provide a urine sample when he ultimately refused to take a blood test. The defendant was later charged with first degree of refusal to submit to a chemical test in violation of Minnesota Statute § 169A.20, Subd. 2, and he later agreed to a sentence at the low end of the presumptive range.
The defendant later made several legal challenges to his plea and the matter was remanded to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in light of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Bernard, 859 N.W.2d 762 (Minn. 2015). The Minnesota Court of Appeals determined that obtaining a blood sample is a search as contemplated by the Fourth Amendment requiring a warrant. In light of the intrusiveness of obtaining a blood sample, the court determined that there was no search‑incident‑to‑arrest exception under the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Moreover, the court determined that the exigent circumstances exception did not apply in this particular case because the facts did not suggest that there was any question with respect to the ability to obtain a timely blood draw from the defendant, unlike other cases where officers face an emergency or other delay, making it difficult to obtain a warrant in advance of the blood draw. The appellate court went on to note that the state could take other approaches to preventing and prosecuting drunk driving that did not infringe on a driver’s fundamental right to refuse an unreasonable search of his blood. Accordingly, it determined that the test‑refusal statute was not sufficiently tailored to protect the defendant’s right to due process and, therefore, violated the federal and state constitutions.
The decision in Trahan will likely be subject to further review and leaves several questions open with respect to the constitutionality of convictions and driving license revocations for test refusal as well as the admissibility of blood test results. The decision suggests that the inquiry will be case specific and the result of the analysis may have significant implications for defendants in a variety of cases. Moreover, the decision raises questions about the advisory given to drivers following a DWI arrest.