Supreme Court Backs Minnesota’s Right to Charge Breathalyzer Refusers Criminally

Approximately, 20,000 people a year are suspected of driving while intoxicated. Many of these drivers refuse a breathalyzer test thinking it will keep them from getting a DWI charge. In Minnesota, that refusal could land you in jail on criminal charges and now, the Supreme Court has backed Minnesota and other states’ right to do so.

Six justices ruled that, if they choose, states can make it a crime for someone to refuse an alcohol breath test if they are pulled over for suspected DWI. Law enforcement officers are not required to get a warrant to ask for and administer the test. Other states that make refusing a breathalyzer a criminal offense are;  Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

3900 were arrested in 2014 for refusing breathalyzers, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The justices felt that the test was minimally invasive and caused no harm to the subject. They did, however, state that officers would be required to get a warrant to administer a blood test. The blood test was felt to be intrusive and required more oversight.

In all 50 states, your driver’s license can be suspended for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. In Minnesota and the states mentioned above, that loss of license is in addition to criminal charges.

Minnesota laws also allow for criminal charges if the subject refuses a urine test for alcohol, but the Supreme Court did not address that component. It was previously ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals.

Many who disagree with the law and the ruling argue that searches should be conducted only with a warrant, and only in “extraordinary circumstances” should a search be permitted without a warrant. Routine traffic stops are ordinary events for police, and citizens rights, including those of privacy, should be protected and upheld.

Prosecutors argued that is was very cumbersome and impractical for officers to be required to get warrants in these circumstances, particularly if they were in a rural area. The justices disagreed, stating magistrates were available to those rurally located officers. Justice Sotomayer additionally commented that “…no governmental interest makes it impractical for an officer to get a warrant before measuring a driver’s alcohol level.”

If you have been involved in a DWI traffic stop, refused a breathalyzer, urine or blood test, contact our offices today to discuss your case.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.