Court rules Minnesota police need warrant before DWI blood tests

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A ruling in Minnesota's Court of Appeals has implications for how state police implement drunken driving laws.

The court overturned the conviction of Todd Trahan, who was sentenced to five years in prison after he was arrested for drunk driving in October 2012 in Ramsey County – after having been convicted of DWI several times previously.

During the course of his arrest, Trahan refused to submit to a blood test to determine his blood alcohol level. He was then charged under Minnesota's "implied consent law," which requires suspected drunken drivers to give a blood or urine sample or be charged with refusing – which carries a heftier penalty.

But the Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that allowing state police to draw blood from a suspect without their permission is unconstitutional. Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks noted such a test is a "serious intrusion into the human body."

Since conducting the test without permission is unconstitutional, the ruling said, so was punishing a suspect for refusing the test.

As a result, state law enforcement officials may soon need a warrant before they can take a blood sample from an arrestee suspected of driving while impaired.

MPR reports there will be exceptions to this. But what won't be an exception is police's concern that by the time they get the warrant and administer the test, the suspect will give a negative reading.

The news organization adds that Minnesota's implied consent law has been "under attack" since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that states police "generally" need a warrant to get a blood or urine sample.

The ruling does not apply to breath tests to measure blood alcohol levels. The Court of Appeals last year upheld the state's implied consent law as it relates to breath tests, meaning police are allowed to conduct these tests on suspected drunken drivers without a warrant.

Dissenting judge thinks ruling restricts choice to drivers

One of the judges on the appeals panel, Kevin Ross, wrote a dissenting opinion, saying the ruling will take choice whether or not to agree to a blood test out of citizens' hands altogether, as police will now immediately apply for warrants rather than giving suspects the choice. He wrote:

"After today’s decision, police should never merely request a blood test, because if they do, upon refusal, not only is no test permitted, but also conviction is far less likely.

Every police officer doing her duty to gather evidence to ensure the criminal conviction of apparently drug-impaired drivers has but one remaining course: give the driver no choice; call a judge every time; get a warrant every time; and administer a blood draw ... if necessary by force, every time.

The state will continue to obtain its evidence to convict and remove impaired drivers from the road, but it will cost the people their significant statutory restraint on police power."

MPR said it's likely the case will be bounced back once more to the Minnesota Supreme Court, to discuss further whether refusing to submit to a blood test is a "fundamental right."

Last year, the Court of Appeals upheld the state's implied consent law when it relates to breath tests, meaning police are allowed to conduct these tests on suspected drunken drivers without a warrant.

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