ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man arrested for DWI in 2012, and ruled that if there’s no warrant, it’s unconstitutional to criminalize a driver's refusal to take a blood test.
The case comes from an Oct. 24 night in 2012 when a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy stopped Todd Eugene Trahan for speeding and erratic driving, suspected he was drinking, but didn't administer a breath test. The court determined forgoing that warrant violates a driver's right to due process under the United States and Minnesota constitutions.
According to court documents, when the deputy approached the car, Trahan was screaming that he’d be “looking at doing 67 months. The deputy noted he had multiple DWI convictions, red, watery eyes, smelled of alcohol and had a hard time standing. The deputy didn’t administer field sobriety tests because Trahan was “so agitated and unpredictable.”
At the police station, he ordered Trahan to take a blood or urine test, and the complaint alleged Trahan used sink water in his urine sample. The deputy then asked him to take a blood test and he refused. He was subsequently charged with first-degree refusal to submit to a chemical test.
At a plea hearing, Trahan said he gave an adequate sample, acknowledge the deputy said it didn't "look right" and that he "must have tampered with it." Trahan further testified, "I did refuse the blood test, so I’m guilty of that," the court's opinion read.
The prosecutor agreed to a sentence of 60 months in prison instead of a presumptive 65-84 months. Trahan pleaded guilty and has been in prison since 2012.
The court cited a case in which alcohol was believed to be a factor in a rollover crash, the driver left with serious injuries, and it was "therefore important to draw his blood within the two-hour statutory time frame to ensure the reliability and admissibility of the evidence." In this case, while Trahan's "lack of cooperation" was "understandably frustrating to police," this situation didn't present "an emergency" that meant a blood test would need to be performed before securing a warrant.
The Ramsey County attorney’s office said it will file a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court asking for the appellate decision to be reversed.