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The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that if there's no warrant, it's unconstitutional to criminalize someone's refusal to take a blood test to measure blood alcohol content.
The case comes from an Oct. 24 night in 2012 when a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy stopped Todd Trahan for erratic driving and speed, suspected he was drinking and driving, but didn't administer any field sobriety tests.
According to court documents, when the deputy approached the car, Trahan was screaming that he'd be "looking at doing 67 months" and the deputy noted he had multiple DWI convictions. The deputy didn't administer field sobriety tests because Trahan was "so agitated and unpredictable."
At the police station, he ordered Trahan take a blood or urine test, and the complaint alleged Trahan used sink water in his urine sample. The deputy then asked him to take a blood test and he refused. He was subsequently charged with first-degree refusal to submit to a chemical test in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2.
At a plea hearing, Trahan testified he gave an adequate sample, acknowledge the deputy said it didn't "look right" and that he "must have tampered with it." Trahan further testified, "I did refuse the blood test, so I'm guilty of that," the court's opinion read.
The prosecutor agreed to a sentence of 60 months in prison instead of a presumptive 65-84 months, and Trahan pleaded guilty.
The court's opinion said charging Trahan for refusing to submit to a blood test without warrant violates a driver's right to due process. The court cited a case in which alcohol was believed to be a factor in a rollover crash, the driver left with serious injuries, and it was "therefore important to draw his blood within the two-hour statutory time frame to ensure the reliability and admissibility of the evidence." In this case, while Trahan's "lack of cooperation" was "understandably frustrating to police," this situation didn't present "an emergency" that meant a blood test would need to be performed before securing a warrant.