In most states, including Minnesota, a driver who refuses a DWI breath test is subject to an administrative revocation of his or her driver’s license. These laws are based on the concept of implied consent; when a person accepts a driver’s license from the state they consent to provide a breath test when requested to do so by a police officer.
Minnesota takes the implied consent concept a step further, however. In Minnesota, when a person suspected of drunk driving refuses to take a breath, blood or urine test, they can be charged with a crime and face a prison sentence of three to seven years if convicted. Minnesota is one of only 13 states that has such a law. The question whether Minnesota’s test refusal law is constitutional will now be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case arises out of the arrest of a Minnesota man who refused to take a breath test and was criminally charged under the test refusal statute. He argued that the test refusal law violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The trial court judge agreed and dismissed the charges, but the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the breath test was permissible as a warrantless search made incident to an arrest.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a search warrant is ordinarily required when police seek to take a blood, breath or urine test in a DWI case. The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the Minnesota case, along with two cases from North Dakota involving a similar law.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Sheridan of the Sheridan & Dulas law firm represented the defendant before both Minnesota appellate courts and is one of the lawyers representing the Minnesota defendant in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Source: New York Times, “Supreme Court to Review Laws Criminalizing Refusal of Body Substance Tests,” Adam Liptak, Dec. 11, 2015