Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Criminal Penalties for DWI Test Refusal

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
February 11, 2015 5:11 pm

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St. Paul, Minn, – The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a Minnesota statute that criminalizes the refusal of chemical tests administered to those accused of driving while intoxicated. In the case State v. Bernard, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota submitted a brief arguing that it is unconstitutional to apply criminal penalties to individuals solely because they refused a warrantless search.

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 following statement can be attributed to the ACLU-MN’s Executive Director, Charles Samuelson.

We are disappointed that the Minnesota Supreme Court failed to protect Minnesotans fundamental right to assert their rights and refuse a warrantless search. We want to thank Justice Page and Justice Stras for their dissent, and agree with their thoughts that “the court today fundamentally departs from longstanding Fourth Amendment principles, and nullifies the warrant requirement in nearly every drunk-driving case.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent by first, allowing police to do intrusive warrantless searches of biological material taken from inside a person’s body merely because they had enough evidence to arrest them; and second, allowing people to be charged with a crime for refusing to submit to a warrantless search. Imagine if the police could charge us with a crime if we refused to allow them into our houses without a warrant, people would be outraged.

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