Supreme Court: Warrant not needed in drunk driving tests

The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected a man’s claim that police should be required to obtain a warrant before blood and urine tests determine whether he was driving drunk.

The court ruled today in the case of Wesley Brooks, who was stopped three separate times for suspected drunk driving.

After a Shakopee police officer stopped him in 2009, he refused to take field sobriety tests until he talked to his lawyer, who was a passenger in the vehicle.

He eventually agreed to a urine test which showed he was legally drunk.

A similar stop occurred in Minneapolis in 2010, when a blood test showed he was drunk again.

And a third stop in Prior Lake – Brooks was found asleep in his car on the road — showed he was under the influence.

Under Minnesota’s “implied consent” law, drivers are considered to have consented to sobriety testing. People can talk to an attorney, but that right can’t be used to delay testing until a driver sobers up.

“Brooks does not argue that police did not have probable cause to believe that he had been driving under the influence,” the court noted in its opinion today. “He also does not contend that police did not follow the proper procedures established under the implied consent law. Police read Brooks the implied consent advisory before asking him whether he would take all three tests, which makes clear that drivers have a choice of whether to submit to testing. In all three cases, police gave Brooks access to telephones to contact his attorney and he spoke to a lawyer. In fact, in one case, he even had two separate phone calls with an attorney. After consulting with his attorney, Brooks agreed to take the tests in all three instances.”

But Brooks claimed his consent was coerced. The court, however, said authorities gave him the choice of whether to agree to be tested.

“Although refusing the test comes with criminal penalties in Minnesota,” the court said, “the Supreme Court has made clear that while the choice to submit or refuse to take a chemical test ‘will not be an easy or pleasant one for a suspect to make,’ the criminal process ‘often requires suspects and defendants to make difficult choices.’”

“While an individual does not necessarily need to know he or she has a right to refuse a search for consent to be voluntary, the fact that someone submits to the search after being told that he or she can say no to the search supports a finding of voluntariness,” the court said.

While he agreed with the court’s finding based on the totality of the circumstances, Justice David Stras disagreed with the opinion that Brooks in any way consented to be tested.

“I do not mean to suggest that a driver can never voluntarily consent to a blood, breath, or urine test during a traffic stop,” Justice Stras said. “Nor do I express any opinion about what effect, if any, we might give to a driver’s decision to drive on Minnesota roads in light of the implied-consent law.” But he said the evidence against Brooks should be allowed to be admitted in a court anyway.

Here’s the full opinion. Here’s a webcast of the arguments in the case, which were made on September 11, 2013.