Minnesota court approves warrantless urine collection in DWI case

In the United States, the protection of citizen’s rights in the legal process is invaluable. We are given the benefit of the doubt that we are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, we are provided a multitude of rights that protect us from being treated as “criminals.”

We have the right against being subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, a point that certainly applies to cases of suspected drunk driving.  However, the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently made a ruling that limits DWI suspects’ Fourth Amendment rights in an investigation.

In the past, Intoxilyzer results were evidence that went far in solidifying convictions against drunk driving defendants in Minnesota and throughout the country. More recently, however, the accuracy of those tests has been a point of controversy due to flaw in the Intoxilyzer source code, which the State and the manufacturer refused to turn over for years, tying up the courts with endless litigation for a long time. Courts found flaws in the breathalyzer devices, which left prosecutors with less evidence to work with when pursuing drunk driving charges.

In 2009, an officer suspected a woman of driving under the influence and, therefore, pulled her over to investigate the situation. Knowing that a breath test wasn’t necessarily going to prove reliable in court, the officer decided that he had a right to collect a urine sample from the DWI suspect.

Minnesota is an implied consent state. When it came to urine samples, however, the scope of implied consent was somewhat ambiguous. The state’s appeals court recently ruled that the officer was in the right to require a urine sample from the suspect.

If he had waited for a warrant before getting the sample, the suspect’s sample might have failed to show the driver’s level of alleged intoxication at the time when she was pulled over. That scientific detail inspired the appeals court to conclude that there was an “exigent circumstance” that made it legal for the officer to collect the urine sample, even without a search warrant, in a DWI case.

As a result of the ruling, the female defendant’s drunk driving conviction was affirmed. This ruling sets a precedent for future Minnesota DWI/DUI cases, making it easier for law enforcement to collect urine samples from suspects. What do you think about the court’s decision? Does it violate suspects’ rights?


theNewspaper.com: “Minnesota: Appeals Court Expands DUI Implied Consent Reach,” 8 Jul. 2011

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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