Minnesota motorists cannot be held guilty of a crime if they refuses to allow a police officer to draw their blood on demand. A divided state Court of Appeals panel came to that conclusion last week after applying the reasoning found in the US Supreme Court’s McNeely decision (view case), which struck down forced motorist blood draws.
Todd Eugene Trahan was pulled over after midnight on October 24, 2012, after a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy noticed his erratic driving. After pulling Trahan over, it was obvious he was intoxicated. Trahan had a long history of driving under the influence (DUI) convictions. He was taken to a jail cell where he declined to allow a blood draw.
“I did refuse the blood test, so I’m guilty of that,” Trahan admitted.
A judge sentenced Trahan to five years in prison for first-degree refusal. Under Minnesota law, it is a crime to refuse to submit to a blood, breath or urine test. Initially, the Court of Appeals found the law quite clear and upheld Trahan’s conviction, but the Minnesota Supreme Court told the lower court to reconsider.
The appellate court found in its second look at the case that a police officer could not have taken Trahan’s blood without obtaining a warrant from a neutral magistrate under the Fourth Amendment, as police had no valid excuse not to seek a warrant.
“Because a warrantless search of Trahan’s blood would have been unconstitutional under these circumstances, Trahan’s fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches is implicated,” Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks wrote for the panel.
The court majority found the blood test refusal statute failed the strict-scrutiny constitutionality test because there are ways to get drunk drivers off the road without criminalizing the blood draw refusal.
“Police may offer a breath test to a suspected drunk driver and then, if the test is refused, the state may charge the person with the crime of test refusal,” Judge Halbrooks explained. “The state may also prosecute a driver for driving under the influence without measuring the alcohol concentration or amount of controlled substances in a person’s blood. And when time allows, police can secure a search warrant to test the person’s blood.”
The court made a distinction between the intrusiveness of a blood test and a breath test in finding the breath test refusal could still be criminalized. A copy of the ruling is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Minnesota v. Trahan (Court of Appeals, State of Minnesota, 10/13/2015)