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Minnesota Supreme Court rules on rights for those suspected of DWIs

The court ruled individuals do not have a right to legal counsel before deciding to comply with a blood test if the police have a warrant.

In a 4-3 decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday on when a person suspected of driving while intoxicated has the right to legal counsel.

Brought on by a DWI case in Dakota County, the court went against a previous ruling by a lower court. Wednesday’s ruling determined that, if police have a warrant, a person suspected of a DWI does not have the right to legal counsel before deciding to comply with a blood test. 

The court did maintain that the person must be informed that choosing not to comply with the test is a crime.

The Minnesota Supreme court ruled in Friedman v. Commissioner of Public Safety that people have the right to legal counsel at all “critical stages” of criminal prosecution. Wednesday’s ruling states the blood test stage of a DWI does not fall into that category if police have a warrant.

In 2017, a woman was pulled over for a suspected DWI in Dakota County. Presented with a warrant, she was told refusing to comply with a blood or urine test is a crime. 

After submitting a blood test, she was charged with a DWI. She argued her blood tests should be suppressed because she was not given the right to counsel during what she argued was a critical stage of the prosecution. A district court agreed with her, and her tests were suppressed.

A court of appeals reversed that decision and the Supreme Court sided with the court of appeals Wednesday.

Justice Natalie Hudson wrote in the dissent that the blood test does fall into the critical stages category and that people facing a DWI should be allowed counsel as they make a “critical and binding” decision. 

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