Can Minnesota drivers refuse chemical testing for DWI?

Under Minnesota’s implied consent law, motorists are required to submit to chemical testing. Refusing breath or blood tests carries additional penalties.

Drivers in the Twin Cities metro area, and throughout Minnesota, are regularly stopped and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. In fact, the state's Department of Public Safety reported that an average of 70 people were arrested for DWI across the state each day in 2014. Incidental to such arrests, law enforcement officers often ask motorists to submit to chemical testing, such as breath and blood tests. In some cases, the results of these types of tests may be incriminating, which may cause people to refuse them. However, under state law, refusing chemical testing carries additional criminal and license penalties.

Implied consent in Minnesota

Like other states throughout the U.S., Minnesota has an implied consent law. Under this state law, anyone who drives, operates or is in physical control of a motor vehicle automatically "consents" to chemical testing. The law specifies that the authorities may request chemical tests if they have probable cause to believe a driver is under the influence of alcohol. Furthermore, one of the following conditions must also exist:

  • The motorist was lawfully arrested for DWI
  • The driver refused a preliminary breath screening
  • A preliminary breath test indicated a blood alcohol content level of at least .08 The driver was involved in a collision that caused property damage, personal injury or death

People may also be forced to submit to chemical testing if they are operating or driving a commercial vehicle and law enforcement officers have cause to believe they have consumed any amount of alcohol.

Driver's rights

When asking them to submit to such tests, the authorities must inform people that they are required to take the test by law and that refusing to take the test is a crime in the state. State law does allow people who have been asked to submit to chemical tests the opportunity to consult with an attorney prior to making their decision. This right is limited, however, in that it cannot unreasonably delay the authorities from administering the test. In situations when law enforcement agents have reason to believe drivers have violated criminal vehicular homicide or injury laws, then chemical tests may be administered with or without their consent.

Consequences of refusal

In an effort to avoid incriminating themselves, some motorists may choose to withdraw their "implied consent" to a chemical test. While they have this option, if they have not been involved in a collision that resulted in injury or death, doing so carries penalties. Typically, these consequences are in addition to those that may be levied due to a DWI conviction.

Under Minnesota state law, refusing a breath test will result in a driver's license revocation. The length of time that motorists' driving privileges will be suspended depends on a number of circumstances, including whether they have previously been convicted of drunk driving. Additionally, whether or not drivers in such cases are over the legal drinking age may also factor into the duration of their driver's license revocations.

In addition to the generally longer license revocation periods, drivers in Minnesota will also be prosecuted for withholding consent to the test. And the penalties for criminal test refusal are typically more severe than those for the underlying DWI charge and can be imposed regardless of whether the driver is ultimately convicted of DWI.

The statute criminalizing a person's decision to withhold consent to a warrantless search of his or her body for evidence of a crime is the subject of great controversy. In fact, Attorney Jeffrey Sheridan has convinced the United States Supreme Court to review that statute and determine whether it is unconstitutional. While that case is pending, every driver charged in Minnesota, regardless of whether they tested or refused to test, must properly challenge how that evidence was obtained in their individual case. If they fail to do so, even if the United States Supreme Court strikes the law down, the person who fails to bring a proper challenge will derive no benefit from that ruling.

Consulting with an attorney

The repercussions of DWI charges may have life changing implications for people in Minnesota, and elsewhere. These ramifications may be enhanced based on drivers' responses to, and the results of, chemical tests. In order to help protect their rights, and their futures, motorists who have been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving will benefit from obtaining skilled legal representation. An attorney may advise them of their rights and options, as well as help them to determine the best course of action given their circumstances.