Last week I discussed how the procedures for (1) collecting and (2) testing urine samples for the purpose of DWI prosecutions lead to inaccurate results and false convictions. Today, part (3) of how the Edwards Law Office can challenge the state’s use of urinalysis as evidence and maybe help you beat a DWI.
In addition to Minnesota’s urine collection procedures being unreliable measures of blood alcohol content while driving, they also violate fundamental constitutional rights.
Collecting urine from someone suspected of a DWI is a “search” under the Minnesota and United States Constitutions. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. The collection of a urine sample is a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. See Skinner v. Railway Labor Execs.’Ass’n, 489 U.S. 602, 616-17, 109 S. Ct. 1402, 1413 (1989); Mell v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 757 N.W.2d 702, 709 (Minn. Ct. App. 2008). A search conducted without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. State v. Shriner, 751 N.W.2d 538, 541 (Minn. 2008), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 1001 (2009). Yet urine is collected for DWI prosecution without a warrant.
While the Court has held that the “exigent-circumstances exception clearly applies in the implied-consent context,” permitting warrantless collection of body excretions, it bases its decision on the “natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood” [emphasis added]. State v. Shriner, 751 N.W.2d 538, 549-50 (Minn. 2008). The Court reiterated this reasoning in Denucci and Zieglmeier, even though the Shriner language specifically relates to alcohol concentration in the blood, not in urine. State of Minn. v. Denucci (Minn. Ct. App., 2010) (unpublished); Zieglmeier v. Commissioner of Public Safety, (Minn. Ct. App., 2010) (unpublished).
Alcohol reacts differently in blood than in urine, however. Blood alcohol dissipates or “burns off” over time. While alcohol ferments in urine outside the body, it does not ferment inside the body’s urinary bladder. Alcohol concentration in the urine remains until the urine is voided. Thus, the exigency exception to warrantless searches is misapplied to warrantless collection of urine. And warrantless searches of urine, unlike blood, are not appropriate under the exigent circumstances exception.
Two weeks ago (June 27, 2011) the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that urine collection is also covered under the exigent circumstances exception to a warrantless search. So, now the state can ask you to provide a urine sample without first obtaining a warrant. As a result, you need to be even more acutely aware of your rights, what the police can and cannot legally demand absent probable cause.
Next week: The place of urine tests in court and the future of urine tests.
(Thanks to Charles Ramsay, Ramsay Law Firm, PLLC for sharing his research)