Minn. Court: Warrant Needed for Blood Tests in Drunk Driving Cases

October 5, 2007

The Minnesota Court of Appeals decided this week that police should have gotten a warrant before ordering a blood test from a suspected drunken driver in Dakota County, a ruling that could add extra steps for police going after intoxicated motorists.

The court said police need more than evidence of alcohol consumption to test blood without a warrant or consent of the driver. The decision, supported by two of the three judges who heard the case, upholds a lower court ruling that threw out a blood-alcohol test for Janet Shriner.

Shriner hit a car head on while driving the wrong way on May 8, 2006, injuring the other driver. The Burnsville police officer who stopped her after she fled said her eyes were “bloodshot and glazed-over,” she smelled of alcohol and couldn’t stand on her own. He took her to a hospital and ordered a blood test.

Shriner’s attorney argued that the officer should have gotten a warrant before requiring the test, while prosecutors said the circumstances justified going ahead with the procedure without a warrant.

The Appeals Court ruling said both probable cause and special circumstances are needed to justify a warrantless blood test without violating the constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure. The court found those circumstances didn’t exist in Shriner’s case because she had no injuries, wasn’t far from a hospital and the officer wasn’t worried about her blood alcohol level dropping below the legal limit.

Judge David Minge’s majority opinion was also signed by Judge Natalie Hudson.

Dissent came from Judge David Willis, who said a warrant shouldn’t be required when police are at the scene of a serious accident.

“Requiring police officers to balance such factors on the scene poses an impossible burden,” Willis wrote.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom plans to appeal the ruling, which he said “would create significant hardships for police.”

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