ACLU argues Minnesota sobriety test law is unconstitutional

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.

See also:
MN ACLU explains why Duck Dynasty dude's anti-gay comments aren't protected speech

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.


Aclu Brief

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]