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Further Analysis of Minnesota DWI Laws in Light Of the Minnesota Supreme Court's Decision in Brooks

The Minnesota Supreme Court has released its decision in Minnesota v. Brooks yesterday, October 23, 2013.

Minnesota police departments, prosecutors, judges, criminal defense attorneys and citizens recently convicted of a DWI have all been anxiously awaiting the Minnesota Supreme Court's final decision.

If you'll recall, this case is important because it is the first DWI case being considered by the Minnesota Supreme Court since the announcement of the United States Supreme Court's decision in State of Missouri v. McNeely. [1] In McNeely, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, "in drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant."[2]

Wesley Brooks was arrested and charged with DWIs on three occasions in 2009-2010. His cases involved the counties of Scott and Hennepin and he was ultimately convicted in all three cases. Eventually, his cases were consolidated by the Minnesota Supreme Court which granted expedited review in July, 2013.[3]

The true issue in the case is "whether the police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of appellant Wesley Eugene Brooks when they took blood and urine samples from him without a search warrant."[4] The State argued that the warrantless searches should be upheld because "Brooks consented to the searches, exigent circumstances existed in Brooks's cases, the searches were valid incident to Brooks's lawful arrest, and the searches were independently 'reasonable' as minimal intrusions into Brooks's privacy."[5]

Minnesota Supreme Court Decides That Consent Is Voluntary

Even When Threatened With A More Serious Penalty

The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the State's first argument which received all of the court's attention in the decision. In reaching their conclusion that Brooks' consent was voluntary, the court analyzed the constitutionality of Minnesota's implied consent law[6] which makes refusing to submit to a chemical test of blood, breath or urine a serious crime.

The court explained that, under this law, "police can require someone to take a test when an officer has probable cause to believe the person committed the offense of driving while impaired and the person has been lawfully arrested while impaired." [7] However, even while describing the consent as a requirement under the law, the court held that the implied consent law is not "coercive" in that the consent requirement of the Fourth Amendment is still satisfied.[8]

Brooks argued that the implied consent law leaves an arrestee without a true choice "of whether to submit to the tests" because if he chooses not to, "he would be committing a crime."[9] Under the implied consent law, consent is "illegally coerced" and an arrestee is not truly submitting voluntarily to the chemical testing performed by an officer without a warrant.[10]

These arguments fell on deaf ears and the Minnesota Supreme Court held that "a driver's decision to agree to take a test is not coerced simply because Minnesota has attached the penalty of making it a crime to refuse the test."[11] Furthermore, the court reasoned that "the fact that someone submits to the search after being told that he or she can say no to the search supports a finding of voluntariness."[12]

Minnesota Court Decides That The Fourth Amendment

Is Satisfied By Implied Consent

Brooks also made the argument that Minnesota's implied consent statute is an unconstitutional law because the privilege to drive cannot be granted on the condition that individuals give up their Fourth Amendment rights.

The Fourth Amendment protects "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures"[13] and chemical testing does constitute a test under the Fourth Amendment .[14] Further, the general rule under the Fourth Amendment is that searches without a warrant "are per se unreasonable [and] subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions."[15]

One of those exceptions includes "voluntary consent".[16] If you consent to the search, the police do not need a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.[17] Because the Minnesota Supreme Court already concluded that consent can be voluntary under the implied consent law, the court reached its final decision that Brooks had "voluntarily consented to the searches at issue" even though his only other choice was to be charged with an additional crime of refusal under the Minnesota implied consent law. Finally, the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that "Brooks consented to the searches at issue, and thus that a warrant was unnecessary."[18]

While this case delivers a serious blow to the constitutionally protected privacy rights of Minnesota's citizens, Minnesota DWI laws are a complicated maze of Supreme Court decisions, statutes and creative legal arguments and all hope is not lost. Criminal legal issues are murky and require an expert legal eye. Rest assured that even in light of the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in State of Minnesota v. Brooks, the attorneys at Caplan & Tamburino are working every day to put together a winning defense of your constitutional rights. To better understand your rights, and to guarantee that they are

[1] Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct. 1552, 1568 (2013).

[2] Id.

[3] State v. Brooks, Nos. A11-1042, A11-1043, Order (Minn. Filed July 16, 2013).

[4] State of Minnesota v. Brooks, Nos. A11-1042, A11-1043 (Minn. Filed October 23, 2013).

[5] Id.

[6] Minn. Stat. § 169A.51 (2012).

[7] State of Minnesota v. Brooksat 10; citing Minn. Stat. § 169A.51, subd. 1(b) (2012).

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 10.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 13

[12] Id. at 16, citing State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 103 (Minn. 1999).

[13] U.S. Const. amend. IV.

[14] Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 1556 (2013).

[15] Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338 (2009).

[16] Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226-26 (1973).

[17] Id.

[18] State of Minnesota v. Brooks, Nos. A11-1042, A11-1043 (Minn. Filed October 23, 2013).


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