Minnesota Supreme Court upholds implied consent search law for suspected drunken drivers
ST. PAUL -- A law making it illegal for suspected drunken drivers to turn down a breath test was upheld in Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The court confirmed a law that requires suspected drunken drivers to submit to field testing or face more severe criminal charges. This “implied consent” is granted by each driver when they are granted a driver’s licence.
In 2012, William Robert Bernard was arrested in South St. Paul after the truck he was driving became stuck on a boat launch. Police said Bernard refused a test after police smelled alcohol, and after Bernard admitted drinking that day.
Bernard’s case reached the state’s highest court, where his attorneys argued his right to due process was infringed upon due to a Breathalyzer test being a warrantless search. In her majority opinion of the split decision, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote the courts research was unable to find a single instance where a warrantless breath test was not a permissible exception.
“It is rational to conclude that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a breath test relates to the State’s ability to prosecute drunk drivers and keep Minnesota roads safe,” she wrote. “We therefore hold that the test refusal statute is a reasonable means to a permissive object and that it passes rational basis review.”
Gildea said the court determined a police officer’s use of a Breathalyzer is reasonable due to its unobtrusiveness.
The breath test “would have been no more intrusive than the myriad of other searches of the body that we and other courts have upheld as searches incident to a valid arrest,” she wrote.
Justices Alan Page and David Stras, who dissented from the majority opinion, wrote that the search for biological material inside a person -- ie., the lung particulates tested in a breath test -- should not be applicable to the warrantless search exemption.
“The Supreme Court has never implied, much less stated, that the search-incident-to-arrest exception extends to the forcible removal of substances from within a person’s body,” they wrote. “In the end, the court ultimately arrives at a decision that is as notable for its disregard of Supreme Court precedent as it is for its defective logic.”