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Minn. Supreme Court: Samples in DWI Tests Not Coerced

Updated: 10/24/2013 7:29 AM
Created: 10/23/2013 7:06 PM KSTP.com
By: Becky Nahm

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled law enforcement officers can't skip search warrants in drunk driving cases simply because the body burns off alcohol, it blew a hole in Minnesota case law.

Wednesday a widely-anticipated Minnesota Supreme Court ruling promised to clear up any confusion but it might have set up future legal challenges.

The ruling came in the case of Wesley Brooks. He claimed police violated his fourth amendment rights by taking blood and urine without a search warrant during three DWI arrests.

The Minnesota Supreme Court considered only the specifics of this case and found police followed the law so Brooks's rights weren't violated.

But there was a bigger issue raised. Brooks also challenged the constitutionality of Minnesota's implied consent law. He claimed a suspect can't truly consent since refusing is a crime in Minnesota.

The court disagreed. It pointed to other cases that show there can be consequences for refusing a test. However in all but eight states, refusal is not a crime.

Hamline law professor Ed Butterfoss told us he was a little surprised the court didn't dig deeper into the constitutionality argument.

He said the justices found, "since there was no overt coercion and the police followed the procedures that his consent was voluntary and that almost ends the issue for them."

Butterfoss also said the justices relied heavily on the fact that Brooks was allowed to consult his attorney. But he pointed out, attorneys cannot advise clients to break the law.

There was no dissenting opinion. Justice David Stras wrote a concurring opinion. He found that in this case the evidence should be admitted, since the law enforcement officers acted in good faith. But he wrote that he does not think this version of consent would stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

He wrote, "It's hard to imagine how Brooks' consent could have been voluntary when he was advised that refusal to consent to a search is a crime."

Brooks' attorney Jeffrey Sheridan said he is considering appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman called the ruling a positive step forward and said it provides more certainty for law enforcement officers. They will continue to read suspects the implied consent advisory and allow them to speak to a lawyer.

Wesley Brooks

Minneapolis/St. Paul

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