In an unpublished decision that was released on October 9, 2009, the Minnesota Court of Appeals looked at the equal protection clause of the Minnesota Constitution and its application to urine tests resulting from DUI charges.
The case involved an individual, who was arrested for DWI in April of 2008, at which time he submitted to a urine test that resulted in a BAC reading of 0.13. However, at the time the sample was taken from the driver, the arresting officer did not allow the driver to void his bladder before providing the sample for the test.
The result, according to a theory called “urine pooling”, was that the sample this individual provided contained his average alcohol concentration since the last time he had urinated, but not his alcohol concentration at the time of the test itself. The defense had lined up an expert to testify at this trial regarding “urine pooling,” but the Commissioner of Public Safety successfully moved the trial court to exclude the testimony, stating that because appellate courts in Minnesota have not endorsed the urine pooling theory, the expert testimony should not be admitted in trial. The trial court agreed, the testimony was excluded, this individual lost the trial, and appealed the lower court’s ruling.
On appeal, in addition to the urine pooling theory, the defense argued that appellant’s equal protection rights under the Minnesota Constitution had been violated because breath and blood tests measure the driver’s alcohol concentration at the time of the test while urine samples taken without allowing a driver to void his bladder first don’t.
Because expert testimony is only allowed at trial if the expert’s opinion will “assist the fact finder” in resolving factual questions presented during the trial, the Appellate Court ruled that the trial court correctly excluded defense expert’s testimony. The fact in question at his trial was whether or not the urine test was accurate and reliable because the officer did not require a bladder void first.
The Appellate Court reasoned that a test sample must be administered properly in order to be accurate and valid, and because the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) does not require a bladder void first before collecting a urine sample, the officer who arrested the appellant had administered the urine test properly and the test was therefore valid and accurate.
The Appellate Court continued to state that the law that enables the Commissioner of Public Safety to revoke drivers’ licenses, the Minnesota Implied Consent Law, does not require a driver to be impaired at the time of driving but only requires that there be probable cause to believe a driver committed the offense of DWI by looking to see if the test results indicate a BAC of over 0.08. (See Minnesota Statute Section 169A.52, subdivision 4(a) for the full text of this part of the law.)
As for his equal protection violation argument, the Appellate Court ruled that appellant needed to show intentional or purposeful discrimination on the part of the arresting officer who selected a urine test for the driver over a blood or breath test. Appellant could not show that the test selection was intentionally discriminatory; it simply was the test that the officers in that jurisdiction choose.
Does it seem like there are some discrepancies in the Appellate Court’s ruling in this case? It’s never a winning argument in Minnesota to try to compare driving privileges with a constitutional right, or to try to get driving privileges protected the same way that a constitutional right would be, but appellant’s argument that being given a urine test instead of a blood or breath test when both those tests have been proven to measure one’s alcohol concentration at the time of the test while urine tests don’t, does seem like a toothy legal issue. Perhaps another case with different facts could result in a different ruling from the Appellate Court.
If you, or someone you know, has been arrested for a DWI or DUI related charge in Minnesota, then call respected Minneapolis DWI Lawyer Douglas Kans at (952) 835-6314 or (888) 972-6060 for a free initial consultation.
You can read the full opinion at the court’s website: www.mncourts.gov/opinions/coa/current/opa081884-1006.pdf