Minnesota's 'test refusal law' will be heard by the Supreme Court

The events at a South Saint Paul beach ramp will be the topic of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on April 20th. The eight justices will decide whether Minnesota’s law making it a crime for suspected drunk drivers to refuse a breath test is unconstitutional. Minnesota is one of thirteen states with such test-refusal laws.

The argument started back in 2012 when William Bernard, suspected of drink driving, refused all tests to determine his blood alcohol content — despite a state law making refusal a crime. His lawyers argued police needed a warrant, and the case went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, where the justices decided the test-refusal law was constitutional as a “search incident to an arrest.”

Now, the United States Supreme Court is taking on the case, and some similar cases in other states. Arguments are set for April 20, and a decision is expected this summer.

“The United State Supreme Court is going to strike down Minnesota’s test refusal law,” Chuck Ramsay, a drunk-driving attorney at the Ramsay Law Firm predicted. Ramsay’s firm filed a brief in support of striking down the law.

“If the Supreme Court strikes down the law, those who actually submitted to a breath test, after getting threatened with the crime of test refusal, it’s likely that their breath test results will also get thrown out,” Ramsay told Fox 9. The decision could affects thousands of Minnesotans facing DWI charges.

“I think it’s a huge decision here in Minnesota. Right now, there are about 26,000 DWI arrests a year. The overwhelming majority of those are breath test cases,” Ramsay said.

Breath tests are considered searches, and under the Constitution, searches require a warrant. However, there are warrant exceptions. The U.S. Supreme Court has already decided that the “exigency,” or emergency exception, did not apply to breath tests. But the Minnesota Supreme Court decided a different exception did apply. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve the uncertainty.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has already decided that police need warrants for blood and urine tests, but both of those cases are heard to the Minnesota Supreme Court.