A recent opinion by the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that Minnesotans suspected of driving while intoxicated have the right to have their blood samples independently tested. The ruling allows Minnesotans to request that they be given a sample of the blood taken as evidence by the police at the time of their arrest. Should the police refuse such a request, that refusal is deemed to violate a person’s due process rights and will result in the exclusion of the blood sample from evidence permitted to be used at trial.
The case that led to this decision involves David Hawkinson, a man arrested in March of 2010 for driving under the influence. Hawkinson agreed to submit to a draw of his blood and to have the sample subsequently tested by the police. The blood sample was later tested by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who estimated that his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.11, slightly above the legal limit of 0.08.
Shortly after his arrest Hawkinson’s attorney requested a sample of his client’s blood to perform an independent test. Just before trial the defendant learned that the blood sample had been destroyed by law enforcement. A local judge in the county district court held that the evidence ought to be excluded because the police department was not able to present it upon request by the defendant. The State appealed, claiming that it was Hawkinson’s responsibility to show that the destroyed sample would have been used to exonerate him. The Court of Appeals disagreed.
The Court held that suppression of evidence that is favorable to an accused by the State violates that person’s due process when the evidence is material to either guilt or punishment. This standard exists regardless of whether the suppression is the result of good or bad faith on the part of prosecutors. The government argued that this means only that the exclusion of favorable evidence violates due process and that, because there’s no evidence that the defendant’s blood was favorable evidence, bad faith must be shown in order to establish a due process violation. The Court pointed out that it is not for the government to decide what evidence is favorable to an accused and that it does not matter whether the failure to turn over evidence was inadvertent or not.
The Court of Appeals slammed the prosecutors for destroying evidence that had been specifically mentioned by the defendant in the form of a written request for production. The defendant requested potentially exculpatory evidence and was denied it by the government, something the Court found to be a clear violation of Hawkinson’s due process rights.
To read the full opinion, click here.
Source: “Minnesota: Court Rules Police Cannot Destroy DUI Blood Sample,” published at TheNewspaper.com.