MN court rules DUI blood testing proper in past cases

When the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional (.pdf) the practice of requiring people suspected of drunk driving to submit to blood testing without a warrant, it left an important question unanswered: What happens to people who were convicted prior to the ruling?

The Supreme Court ruled in April 2013, eight months after Shawn O’Connell pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. He submitted to testing after his arrest in Bloomington, after he was told of the Minnesota law — known as implied consent — that presumes drivers consent to being tested without a warrant requirement.

A year ago, O’Connell asked a court that he be allowed to withdraw his plea. He was denied. Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

In her ruling today, Judge Louise Dovre Bjorkman said the Supreme Court’s decision changed the rules used by Minnesota law enforcement, which had claimed the right to test drivers without a warrant because of the likelihood that a person could sober up by the time a warrant was obtained.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court and the Minnesota Supreme Court have not clarified that the decision creates a new rule of law, the Court of Appeals ruled that it does, and because it does, it doesn’t apply to cases already settled.

There are provisions where it could — decisions that are known as “watershed rules” — but this isn’t one of them, Bjorkman said.

“The requirement that law enforcement secure a warrant, or establish an exception to the warrant requirement, before administering a breath, blood, or urine test has little bearing on the accuracy of the underlying determination of guilt. Rather, it merely addresses the procedural requirements law enforcement must follow when gathering evidence against a suspect.”