2008 Minnesota Case Law Update (Warrantless Blood Draws - DWI, Source Code – Intoxilyxer Machine)
Do the names Shriner, Netland and Underdahl sound familiar? You may have heard these names on the news, or read them online or in the paper. State v. Shriner, State v. Netland, and State v. Underdahl are three important Minnesota court cases regarding the Implied Consent Law that were decided in the last year. Although these cases received media attention, many people have only a partial understanding of what these cases mean to Minnesotans facing DUI/DWI charges. First, to understand these rulings, you must first have an understanding of the Minnesota's Implied Consent Law.
What is Minnesota’s Implied Consent Law?
Minnesota’s implied consent law states that every time you drive, operate
or are in physical control of a motor vehicle on the roadways, lakes and
waterways within the state of Minnesota, you consent to a chemical test of
your blood, urine or breath by law enforcement to determine the presence of
alcohol, a controlled substance or a hazardous substance in your body.
That’s it. Just by getting into a car, truck, ATV or boat, and being in
control of that vehicle, you have given your consent to be chemically tested
for alcohol or controlled substances, if asked by law enforcement.
How does law enforcement ask?
They read a form called the Implied Consent Advisory to you and ask you
to initial and sign the form as they go over it with you. It includes a list
of your rights – to talk to an attorney, to have an interpreter if you need
one, etc. – and a signature space for you to sign, indicating you understand
your rights and you are consenting to a chemical test. The sample – blood,
breath or urine – that you provide is a search of your person, which is why
consent (or a warrant) is necessary for an officer to take a sample of any
of those from you.
That’s why it’s called the implied consent law –by getting on the road
and waterways of Minnesota, you consent to the chemical test in advance of
being asked. Also, there is a difference between a civil Implied Consent
proceeding and the criminal charges that result for refusing to take a
chemical test under the Implied Consent Law.
What These Cases Say:
Shriner was first of these three cases and was decided by the Minnesota
Court of Appeals on October 2, 2007. At that time, the court affirmed the
district (or trial) court’s decision in favor of Shriner. The case was
appealed however, and on May 30, 2008, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed
the Appellate Court’s decision and ruled that Shriner’s blood test results
were admissible and her DWI charges would stand.
The basic facts are as follows: Shriner drove into the wrong lane of
traffic and struck another vehicle head-on. The officer who responded had to
remove her forcibly from her car because she was too intoxicated to stand on
her own and she smelled heavily of alcohol. The officer then took her to a
nearby hospital and had a blood sample drawn immediately to determine her
blood alcohol content. In court, Shriner challenged the fact that the
officer had neither obtained a warrant to take a blood sample from her nor
read her the implied consent advisory and obtained her consent.
The district court ruled that in order for the officer to take a sample
of Shriner’s blood, breathe or urine, the officer by law needed either her
consent or a search warrant, unless an exception to the search warrant
requirement existed. This is because the 4th Amendment to the US
Constitution states that US citizens have the right to be free from
warrantless searches and seizures. However, there are exceptions to the
warrant requirement and situations in which a warrant is not necessary for a
search or seizure to be legal. One exception arises when there are exigent
circumstances – such as, a high speed car chase, or a human life is at risk.
The State argued that because the alcohol in Shriner’s body was being
metabolized, her blood alcohol concentration was going to decrease rapidly
and the officer didn’t have time to get a search warrant. The trial court
agreed with Shriner and ruled that in this case, the officer would not have
lost any evidence if he had taken the time to obtain a warrant. The
Appellate Court agreed, but the Supreme Court did not. The Supreme Court
found that dissipation of alcohol in a defendant’s body creates a
single-factor (meaning no other reasons or factors are necessary) exigent
circumstance (meaning the situation is an exception to the warrant
requirement), that justifies taking a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw
from the defendant, if the officers have probable cause to believe that the
defendant has committed criminal vehicular homicide or operation.
Netland was decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on December 12,
2007, and like Shriner, was accepted by the Minnesota Supreme Court for
review on February 27, 2008. The Minnesota Supreme Court has not issued its
ruling in Netland yet, however, so under Minnesota law the ruling of the
Appellate Court is not binding law in Minnesota at this time. The basic
facts in Netland are as follows: Netland was arrested for DUI and consented
to a breath test at the police station. However, upon beginning the test,
she was unable to blow a sufficient sample to register the results of her
blood alcohol concentration with the Intoxilyzer machine. Over three minutes
and 19 attempts later, the officer told her he was deeming her failure a
refusal and he charged her with test-refusal.
The Appellate Court ruled that although her challenge that the implied
consent law violated her 4th Amendment rights failed, her challenge to the
criminal charges she faced for her refusal was valid, and her conviction was
overturned. The Court ruled that her due process rights – not her 4th
Amendment rights – had been violated because “a criminal conviction for test
refusal violates due process if the circumstances of the requested test and
alleged refusal are fundamentally unfair.” The Court found that because
Netland took the test, and the test was terminated not by Netland but by the
officer who deemed her then to have refused, her conviction for refusal was
Underdahl was decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on May 20, 2008.
In essence, the Court stated that a district court had committed an abuse of
discretion when it had granted Underdahl’s motion to discover the source
code (computer programming information) of the Intoxilyzer machine (the
machine used by law enforcement in Minnesota to measure blood alcohol
concentration with an individual’s breath sample). The Court ruled that
unless a defendant can show that the source code is relevant, the code is
not discoverable. The basic facts were as follows: Underdahl moved at his
implied consent hearing to compel the State to get the source code for the
machine from the company that designed and manufactures the machines. The
State replied that it didn’t have the source code and that the company
wouldn’t release that information because of intellectual property issues.
Underdahl argued that if he had the code, he could determine whether the
machine was reliable and therefore whether his test results were legitimate.
The district court ordered the State to produce the code. The Appellate
Court, however, ruled that Underdahl had not demonstrated that having the
code would mean he could prove whether the machine was reliable or not, and
therefore the code was not discoverable because it was not reasonably
certain to lead to admissible evidence for trial.
What These Cases May Mean If You’re Facing DUI/DWI Charges:
Underdahl: The results in this case mean that moving for discovery of the
Source Code of the Intoxilyzer machine is probably not the golden cure-all
the media made it sound like it would be! Although moving to discover the
code can be a good tool in the defense of your case, the Courts have made it
pretty clear it will be difficult to prove that the code is relevant to your
case, although the Courts have indicated that they are willing to hear more
argument on the topic.
Shriner: This case is helpful to you if you are not facing charges for
criminal vehicular homicide or operation. If you are facing other charges, a
challenge could be made that you must either consent to give or be served a
valid search warrant for a sample of your blood, urine or breath.
Netland: This case is very fact-specific as well as still on review in
the Minnesota Supreme Court. Netland blew into the Intoxilyzer 19 times in
less than three and a half minutes and still wasn’t able to produce an
adequate breath sample for the machine to read her blood alcohol
concentration; that is why the court ruled that she had not refused the
test. Under similar facts, the court’s interim ruling may apply to your
defense. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court follows the
Appellate Court’s reasoning when it does issue its opinion in the future.
Where these cases indicate Minnesota Law is heading
There is a tenuous balance between the rights guaranteed to individuals
in the 4th Amendment to be free from warrantless searches, and the public
safety interest that is protected by Minnesota’s Implied Consent and DWI
laws. It is the job of the legislature to ensure that the public is safe
while out on the road and waterways of our state, and it is the judiciary’s
job to ensure that our constitutional rights as individuals are protected.
It is clear from the variety of conclusions drawn by the Courts of these
three cases that the Implied Consent Law and the 4th Amendment will be
challenged by each other again soon in Minnesota. Notice, though, that all
three cases share a common thread: The rulings are all very fact specific,
and apply only in certain circumstances. Likely, these are the types of
rulings of which we will be seeing more in the near future, a sort of ad hoc
web of judicial interpretation of legislative intent, woven one situation at
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