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 toMinnesotans 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 fundamentally unfair.
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 a time.
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