Stearns County is setting up to become one of the first counties in Minnesota to require law enforcement officers to acquire search warrants before they take blood samples from suspected drunken drivers who refuse blood testing.
This change is the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Missouri case that has placed DWI prosecution into a questionable state. The decision has led to a Stearns County judge throwing out at least one Minnesota DWI case under the possibility that the implied consent law in Minnesota violates constitutional rights.
The implied consent advisory is read to suspected drunken drivers. It says that the drivers are required to submit to chemical testing at the request of the officer or refusal will result in criminal charges.
Because of the questions regarding the constitutionality of implied consent, Stearns County prosecutors have changed the procedures for traffic stops. Police officers and deputies will not read the advisory, but they will ask the driver to voluntarily submit to a blood test. If the driver refuses, the arresting police officer will seek a search warrant to acquire the blood sample.
So far, this is a very unique procedure, as most judges throughout Minnesota are still upholding the implied consent law, which makes it a crime for someone suspected of DWI to refuse the test.
Local judges will be handing the warrant requests via fax at their homes after business hours. This is made possible due to the local court purchasing a portable fax machine that judges who are on-call for the weekend can take home with them if they do not already have a fax machine at their homes.
In the Missouri case that brought about questions regarding the constitutionality of implied consent, the high court said a police officer must consider more than just how fast the alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream when making the decision of whether or not to get a warrant. Minnesota is one of the states where alcohol dissipation in the bloodstream has been reason enough to obtain a blood sample without a warrant.
In Stearns County alone, there are approximately 1,200 DWIs that are charged each year and the test refusal rate is approximately 12 percent. This works out to around 144 refusals each year and this number is expected to grow.
According to Sheriff John Sanner, he said that the change is a major one, as it does place a greater strain on the officers who must obtain a search warrant in order to get the blood sample from the driver as quickly as possible. It doesn’t matter if it is 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 a.m., the warrants must be obtained at all hours. This will also result in more judges being up in the middle of the night responding to search warrant requests.
In other areas around the state, the State Patrol has only changed its policy so it can get search warrants in specific cases, such as those involving a suspected drunken driver allegedly causing injury or death. However, the attorney general’s office has advised the Minnesota State patrol that it doesn’t have to abandon the existing implied consent law and advisory in a basic DWI traffic stop.