Appeals Court upholds law on alcohol tests

KIMT News 3 — It is not rare to see a DWI case in court, but there is one in particular that has made headlines.

It involves a South St. Paul man who was accused of driving a truck that got stuck while taking a boat out of the water. He denied being the driver, but when police approached him he had the keys in his hand and smelled of alcohol.

He refused to take a blood or breath test, but police decided they would go forward with one anyway.

That type of situation is a familiar one for Albert Lea police Lieutenant Jeff Strom. There are times when people they suspect to be driving while drunk refuse to take a breath or blood alcohol test.

“Usually what happens if they refuse to give a sample then we just proceed on with everything,” Strom said.

There can be ramifications for refusing to take a test.

“They lose their driver’s license for a year, they automatically get charged with a gross misdemeanor violation for refusing to test,” Strom said.

That law has been surrounded in controversy.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has considered it, the Minnesota Supreme Court has considered it and of course the Minnesota Court of Appeals has considered many DWI cases,” said Assistant Freeborn County Attorney David Walker.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has been reviewing a case around the state’s “implied consent” law and this week they upheld it.

“When the officer said, in effect, I’m going to conduct a search by demanding a sample from you, it was reasonable for, the defense was arguing, it would be reasonable for Bernard to refuse that because the officer really couldn’t conduct a search, really couldn’t compel the taking of that sample,” Walker said.

In reality the law says if an officer believes there is enough evidence to get a search warrant but does not have time to do so before the alcohol leaves the driver’s system, they may conduct a test.

“You have to consider the totality of the circumstances before you force a person to provide any kind of a sample for testing,” Walker said.

Strom would rather avoid that situation in the first place.

“We try to do a lot of education to people ahead of time so they don’t get to the point where they’re drinking and driving,” Strom said.

The attorney for the man in this case says they plan to take their arguments to the Supreme Court. That is because he says seven lower court judges have dismissed charges stemming from test refusals in the past.

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