St. Paul, Minn – The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a brief, in a case that will be argued to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which challenges the constitutionality of Minnesota's law criminalizing refusal to submit to alcohol level tests. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the law in their decision. The ACLU-MN argues in their brief that both the law and the MN Court of Appeals decision are problematic because they take away individuals' Fourth Amendment rights.
The case stemmed from an incident in 2012 when William Bernard was approached by police at a public boat ramp and asked to undergo field sobriety tests which he refused, he was then taken into custody and asked to undergo a breath test which he also refused. Consequently, he was charged with felonies for refusal to submit to chemical testing. After the MN Court of Appeals upheld the law, Bernard appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The ACLU is not representing Bernard.
The Supreme Court has found that taking blood and urine samples is a Fourth Amendment "search" the ACLU-MN believes this to mean that a warrant should be required for all alcohol level testing. However, the police do not need a warrant if the person agrees to the search, as long as the consent was freely and voluntarily given. The ACLU-MN argues that by criminalizing the refusal of a search the State of Minnesota is forcing individuals to give up their Fourth Amendment protections without due process.
"Criminalizing a refusal to take an alcohol level test is unconstitutional" stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN, "There are other consequences the State can impose, but the threat of jail should be beyond their power. The legislature has made an error and the Court should fix it."
In their decision the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that because the police could have obtained a warrant, but chose not to, Bernard may be charged with a crime for refusing to contest to the warrantless search. The ACLU-MN argues in their brief that this effectively repeals the warrant requirement in the Fourth Amendment.
"The Minnesota Court of Appeals decision turns the Fourth Amendment on its head, and is setting a dangerous precedent by stating that the police don't actually need to get a warrant as long as they had good evidence," stated Teresa Nelson, Legal Director of the ACLU-MN. "I think most people would be appalled if the police could search our houses without a warrant simply because they stated they had enough evidence to do so."
Cooperating attorneys in the case are: Howard Bass of the Bass Law Firm and Nicole Moen of Fredrikson and Byron along with Teresa Nelson of the ACLU-MN.