2016 begins with DWI law uncertainty in Minnesota

The law surrounding drunk driving might not be as hazy as the early hours of New Year’s, but there’s some uncertainty in Minnesota due to 3 recent appellate court decisions.

Minnesota is one of a small minority of states that makes it a crime to refuse blood alcohol tests if suspected of drunk driving — even if the police do not have a warrant. However, courts recently ruled that police do need warrants if the BAC test uses blood or urine. No warrants are needed for breath tests. In other words, police can only get a warrantless BAC test from a suspected drunk driver if it’s a breath test, which is the most common test.

“The state of DWI law is very much developing as we speak," Dan Koewler, a criminal defense attorney at the Ramsay Law Firm, told Fox 9.

Koewler was involved in the recent case in which the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that police need warrants for urine BAC tests. On top of the recent changes, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take on the constitutionality of Minnesota’s law, as well as other states, that makes it a crime to refuse a BAC test without a warrant.

“Minnesota is now in the national spotlight because the United States Supreme Court has stepped in, and they’re going to be reviewing Minnesota’s entire DWI test refusal law and giving the final word, once and for all, putting to rest: is what Minnesota is doing constitutional or not?” Koewler told Fox 9.

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision likely not coming until June, courts and police are adjusting to the court decisions.

“Some judges are already making the decision that they’re going to stay their cases, put them on hold, and just wait for the final answer from the U.S. Supreme Court,” Koewler said. “It is causing problems for law enforcement trying to adapt to the ever-changing state of the law. I mean we’re in a situation now where with some tests, the test refusal law is unconstitutional. Breath tests are currently not [unconstitutional] but could be in the future.”

A Minnesota State Patrol spokesperson told Fox 9 that the agency recently changed its policies to require troopers to always get warrants for blood and urine tests. In the past, troopers would simply read the “implied consent” warning drivers that test refusal was a crime. Troopers still read the warning for warrantless breath tests.