ACLU argues Minnesota sobriety test law is unconstitutional

Categories: Law
breathalyzerFEAT.jpg
West Midlands Police on Flickr
The ACLU-MN argues being arrested for refusing to take tests of this sort violates the Fourth Amendment.
Do you know it's a crime in Minnesota to merely refuse to submit to a sobriety test?

It's a lesson a man named William Bernard learned the hard way two years ago when he was approached by police at a public boat ramp and asked to undergo field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer exam. Bernard refused, was arrested, and ultimately convicted of a felony for refusing to submit to chemical testing.

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Bernard appealed the decision, which was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. But the Minnesota Supreme Court will soon hear the case, and yesterday, the ACLU-MN announced it has filed an amicus (or "friends of the court") brief supporting Bernard's appeal.

"In the Court of Appeals decision, the court said that the plaintiff charged with the crime could be charged criminally for refusing the test because even though [law enforcement] didn't have a warrant, they could've gotten one," ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson tells us. "That's their argument, and basically we said that's faulty legal reasoning because it effectively repeals the warrant requirement... 'Even though we didn't, we could've, and because we could've, it's the same as getting one' -- that doesn't make sense."

Samuelson and the ACLU pin some blame on Minnesota lawmakers for not repealing the law underpinning Bernard's case.

"The legislature has made an error and the court should fix it," Samuelson says in an ACLU-MN statement.

Though he objects to the law and to the Court of Appeals' ruling, Samuelson says he thinks it's appropriate for drivers who refuse to take tests after being arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving (or boating) to lose their licenses.

"A driver's license is a privilege, not a right. Freedom is a right," Samuelson says. "And so, when you're talking about rights and privileges, rights trump privileges. So you can say, look, the reason we have drug and alcohol restrictions is because they diminish your capacity to drive, and in your car you're a public health risk if you're driving inebriated."

"It's appropriate to say we gotta pull you off the road, and taking your license accomplishes that," Samuelson says. "What we see as a constitutional issue is, fundamentally, you can't put somebody in jail for refusing to take a test."

In the aforementioned statement, Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU-MN, says, "The Minnesota Court of Appeals decision turns the Fourth Amendment on its head, and is setting a dangerous precedent by stating that the police don't actually need to get a warrant as long as they had good evidence."

"I think most people would be appalled if the police could search our houses without a warrant simply because they stated they had enough evidence to do so," she continues.

The read the ACLU's brief for yourself, click to page two.



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39 comments
Karen Watson
Karen Watson

It's about money? No. It's about keeping drunk people off the road!! The low legal limit serves as a deterrent. It works for me! We live in a city where a lot of people ride bikes at all hours of the night, too. Do you want to share the road with an impaired driver? Think long and hard before you support changing any law that will protect you from a driver who has been drinking.

Joshua Warren
Joshua Warren

I would never submit to one if I got pulled over. It's a violation of my civil rights. I'd also never submit to a search of my vehicle. Not because I have anything to hide, but because the police is a bunch of power hungry bullies that think they rule everyone like bourgeois nobility. Fuck them. Take thirty off patrol with their wages, benefits, gas usage, car wear and tear, etc. and you could get taxis for all the drunk people.

Joe Peterson
Joe Peterson

Only one way to find out if you are drunk. Take the test.

Karen Watson
Karen Watson

I don't get why this is an issue. People are killed by drunk drivers WAY too often. It's incredibly upsetting. If you are suspected of drinking and driving, but haven't been, and have nothing to hide-blow into the damn thing. End. Done. It's happened to me coming home from a late night at work when I was honestly too tired to be driving home and I must have swerved a little. I was pulled over and the cop told me that it appeared as though I was intoxicated and asked me to submit to a test. I said yes because I wanted to go home and no hassle. He apologized after the test and told me not to drive when I'm so tired (which I took very seriously). If you aren't drunk, why refuse the test? You are just creating more problems for yourself. Refusing the test only implies that you are worried about not passing it.

Lorna Grant
Lorna Grant

...."I did read the article".. which part of my comment did you also NOT take the time to read? Bravo Sir.

Joe Voegeli
Joe Voegeli

Then you shouldn't display your ignorance by commenting on an article that you didn't take the time to read.

Jolene Hendrickson
Jolene Hendrickson

Yes I did but not until I refused one because I had not been drinking! lol

Sarah Lawl
Sarah Lawl

What about the need for you to insult your own?

Jake Helpdesk Olson
Jake Helpdesk Olson

Well, you shouldn't be putting yourself in the position to have to take a sobriety test in the first place. Just sayin'.

Lorna Grant
Lorna Grant

And there really is no need to insult my intelligence over the internet...

Lorna Grant
Lorna Grant

I did read the article, I just think that there are clearly bigger issues and this is just whining bullshit at this point

Dan Mason
Dan Mason

True enough but the 4th amendment is worth protecting, or didn't you understand all those words in the article?

Lorna Grant
Lorna Grant

And yet here you are assuming people can't think "outside the box they [apparently] have been ever so gently placed in" bravo for lowering yourself to insults against logic.

Eric Shawn Smith
Eric Shawn Smith

The fucking Pony Express was a bunch of drunk, horseriding, rapists. Stick that in your mouth and blow on it.

David Bruning
David Bruning

It's not illegal to refuse but the caveat is that when you sign for your drivers license you are agreeing to be subject to these assessments or immediately give up your license. The police can arrest you for whatever they deem whether it's being clearly intoxicated or mouthing off

Kenny Thiem
Kenny Thiem

I really doubt it's in our constitution that says its ok or not ok for people to refuse sobriety test. If they did then Ben Franklin would have been screwed cause he was a drunk.

Joe Peterson
Joe Peterson

Why would you refuse if you are not drunk?

Sarah Lawl
Sarah Lawl

I love how discussions like this one cause the ASSes to ASSume. We are talking about law and the legality of it. Gtfoh with the "don't drink and drive you won't have a problem" well DUH Non rocket scientist...no $hit!!! But Thats not what is being discussed...some of you don't think outside the box you have been ever so gently placed in.

Andrew Hodny
Andrew Hodny

Yes, I did know that. I agree with the ACLU's reasoning. Thank you for linking to the ACLU's brief.

Jennifer Evans
Jennifer Evans

Bad picture City Pages. You may legally refuse a preliminary breath test in Minnesota which is what this picture is of. You may not currently refuse an intoxilyzer test after being read the implied consent advisory.

Kirk Anderson
Kirk Anderson

If it's legal for the government to criminally punish someone for exercising their constitutional rights, then there aren't constitutional rights at all. The constitution is the Supreme law of the land and legislation cannot trump a constitutional right. Make the cops get a warrant

Nathan Conley
Nathan Conley

Just remember...it's against the law to be in public with a BAC .08 or greater.

Charles D. Rhoden III
Charles D. Rhoden III

It's against the law in most states and municipalities. Refusal to submit to a sobriety test is a tacit admission of guilt. Either you are sober and can pass, are not sober and cannot pass (or sober with extenuating circumstances and cannot pass, in which case you ask for a breathalyzer). Not rocket science.

Susan Lueck
Susan Lueck

They only give you one it you seem intoxicated, don't drink and drive and there won't be a problem. Seriously, not hard to find sober cab. You're a adult and a child be responsible, and you won't have a damn problem.

jpinmn
jpinmn

that's the trick some attorneys say to play. Refuse the test, it might take an hour or two to get the warrant and hopefully, by then, your BAC will be lower.

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