Thousands of Minnesota DWI cases could be affected by Supreme Court ruling

One veteran defense attorney told KARE, "This is by far and away the most fundamental ruling in DWI law since I've been practicing,"
One veteran defense attorney told KARE, "This is by far and away the most fundamental ruling in DWI law since I've been practicing,"

Some defense attorneys think a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday could affect thousands of pending DWI cases here in Minnesota.

SEE ALSO: Minnesota Supreme Court rules you can legally drunk-drive Segways

The 8-1 ruling held that in most situations, law enforcement officers cannot force a drunk-driving suspect to submit to a blood alcohol test without obtaining a search warrant first. Currently, in Minnesota, it's illegal for suspects to refuse to submit to a blood test, warrant or no.

But the impact of the Supreme Court's decision might go beyond the 20 percent of Minnesota DWI cases that involve blood tests as opposed to breathalyzers. DWI attorney Chuck Ramsay told WCCO that the ruling "will definitely affect breath test cases" as well. In comments made to the Star Tribune, Ramsay said he interprets the decision to mean, "It's now unconstitutional to threaten a driver with criminal charges in order to obtain their consent."

"Even today there are thousands of DWI cases that are pending," Ramsay told the Strib. "I believe that in almost every single one of those cases the alcohol test should be thrown out."

But authorities don't buy the notion that the decision will have a significant impact in Minnesota. An email the Minnesota County Attorneys Association sent to its members contends that the ambiguities in Justice Sonia Sotomayor's majority decision means police and prosecutors won't have to change standard procedure for now.

"Unfortunately, Justice Sotomayor's decision does not give a lot of guidance to law enforcement in terms of when they need to get a warrant," the emails says. "Most importantly, it doesn't give any guidance of how much delay is too much delay." (In her ruling, Sotomayor wrote that "cases will arise when anticipated delays in obtaining a warrant will justify a blood test without judicial authorization," but she doesn't specify exactly what sorts of cases fit the bill. In a separate decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that's an issue that'll be sorted out through other cases.)

Prosecutor Chris Renz told KARE 11 that he interprets the ruling as only applying to nonconsensual blood-draw cases.

Referring to the Missouri case that worked its way up to the Supreme Court, Renz said, "I think it's a nonconsensual blood draw case and there aren't that many nonconsensual blood draw cases that I've prosecuted in a decade of prosecuting cases."

Will the ruling result in any of the thousands of pending DWI cases here in Minnesota being dismissed? With prosecutors and defense attorneys now interpreting the law differently, as always, it'll be up to the courts to decide.

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