Court: DWI samples are not coerced

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, October 24, 2013

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a man’s claim that he was coerced into agreeing to provide blood and urine samples used in his three DWI convictions.

In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that when Wesley Brooks of Prior Lakes consented, police did not need a search warrant to take the samples.

Brooks argued that he had no choice but to provide the samples, because refusing to do so is a crime in Minnesota.

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Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote in the opinion that a driver’s decision to agree to take a test “is not coerced simply because Minnesota has attached the penalty of making it a crime to refuse the test.”

Under Minnesota’s implied-consent law, drivers are considered to have consented to sobriety testing. Refusal results in criminal charges.

The ruling was heralded by law enforcement. But many legal observers say it leaves unanswered questions about the constitutionality of Minnesota’s implied-consent law, established in 1961.

Bill Lemons, traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said the ruling shows that law enforcement has been doing things right.

“I think it makes clear that if you follow the implied-consent procedures and law, then the consent is valid and the test results admissible,” Lemons said.

The ruling was the first case analyzing how Minnesota law could be affected in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Missouri case in April. In that case, the Supreme Court said police usually must try to obtain a search warrant from a judge before ordering blood tests for drunken-driving suspects.

Brooks also argued that police should have obtained a search warrant before taking the samples. The court found that because Brooks consented, warrants weren’t necessary. Brooks agreed to provide the samples after being read Minnesota’s implied-consent law. He also was allowed to contact his attorney in each case.

“By reading Brooks the implied consent advisory, police made clear to him that he had a choice of whether to submit to testing,” Gildea wrote. “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.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice David Stras agreed that no warrant was necessary, but disagreed that implied consent does not amount to coercion.

“It’s hard to imagine how Brooks’ consent could have been voluntary when he was advised that refusal to consent to a search is a crime.” Stras wrote.

Brooks’ attorney, Jeff Sheridan, said with his client’s permission, he probably will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to address the implied-consent issue.