Star Tribune Interviews Attorney Dan Koewler To Discuss the State v. Bernard DWI Test Refusal Decision

In the wake of the Bernard decision (the Minnesota Supreme Court's latest decision finding Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law constitutional, after previous attempts to obtain review of the constitutional issue were rejected by the United States Supreme Court) Ramsay Law Firm has been deluged with requests for our reaction to the decision, and our analysis of what this decision means and how it will potentially be applied in the future.

Ramsay Law Firm's Dan Koewler discussed the case with Fox9 and WCCO Channel 4, and also responded to requests from the Star Tribune and other local print media. Here's an excerpt from the Star Tribune article: 

The exception cited by the state Supreme Court that allows police to do a warrantless breath test is legally referred to as a “search incident to a valid arrest exception.” Gildea said that the state high court could not find a single case anywhere in the country prohibiting a breath test under that exception.

Yet the ruling deals only with a breath test and makes only a passing reference to the constitutionality of a blood or urine test for a suspected drunken driver. That may open the door for a driver to demand a warrant before giving a sample, said Dan Koewler, a DWI defense lawyer who submitted a brief in support of Bernard from the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice. “This is notable, and leaves more questions than answers,” he said.

We've got plenty more to say about the court's reasoning in Bernard, and we'll be sharing it here. Fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be bumpy ride as Minnesota's legal community adjusts to a radical new interpretation of the United States Constitution.

Attorney Dan Koewler From Ramsay Law Firm Discusses the Bernard Case on WCCO Channel 4

In the wake of the decision in State v. Bernard (finding Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law constitutional if law enforcement demand a breath test), Minnesota media turned to Ramsay Law Firm for our reaction and analysis of this groundbreaking decision.

Our own Dan Koewler (author of the "friend of the court" brief submitted in the case) discussed the possible ramifications of this decision on WCCO Channel 4 news.

You can view the video here.

Ramsay Law Firm's Dan Koewler Discusses DWI Test Refusal on Fox 9 News

Dan Koewler appeared on KMSP Fox 9 News this week to discuss the recent Supreme Court decision in State v. Bernard and provide his experienced analysis of the decision (you can read the decision itself here).

The article associated with the interview does a good job of laying out the basic facts of the Bernard case, as well as discussing the legal holding in the case. We'd suggest reading it.

This decision is notable (and surprising) as much for the spirited dissent as for the final decision, and will have a tremendous impact on all future DWI cases. This case marks an important shift towards a new and much looser interpretation of our Constitution's Fourth Amendment, stretching an exception to the warrant requirement originally designed to protect the safety of law enforcement to cover intrusions into the human body.

As always, expect much more litigation in the aftermath of the Bernard decision, including a high likelihood of this case (or at least the issue presented in this case) arriving on the doorstep of the United States Supreme Court in the near future. KMSP-TV


Bernard Breakdown - Part One (The Good News)

 Ahh, Bernard. Where to begin?

For those of you who haven't read the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in State v. Bernard, here's the bottom line:

After Bernard, it appears that the Minnesota law that makes it a crime to refuse to submit to a warrantless, involuntary breath test is not unconstitutional. That's not what we were hoping for, but it's not all bad.

Let’s start with the good news.

1. No more "hypothetical warrant" nonsense.

In one short paragraph, the Supreme Court dismissed the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ attempted revival of the long-dead “hypothetical warrant doctrine." Here's what they said:

The court of appeals’ analysis is contrary to basic principles of Fourth Amendment law. … [W]e refuse to embrace the rule that the court of appeals applied in this case [the hypothetical warrant doctrine].

Very clear cut, and very refreshing.

2. Bernard applies to breath tests only.

The Bernard majority limited its holding to breath tests, so when it comes to blood and urine tests, it certainly appears that the warrant requirement applies in full force. Again, here's what the Court had to say about blood and urine tests:

[T]he question of a blood or urine test incident to arrest is not before us, and we express no opinion as to whether a blood or urine test of a suspected drunk driver could be justified as a search incident to arrest.

3. The two-justice dissent eloquently laid out a road map for reversing Bernard.

As the dissent points out, state court justices cannot cover their ears, shut their eyes, and “la, la, la…I can’t hear you” their way out of their duty to follow decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on constitutional law. In Missouri v. McNeely, the U.S. Supreme Court definitively ruled that the potential loss of evidence due to dissipation of alcohol in the blood is not enough to justify an exception to the warrant requirement. The Bernard majority tried to get around McNeely by swapping one per se warrant exception for another one . . . and the dissent squarely called them out on it. Last time the Minnesota Supreme Court tried to circumvent the Constitution with a DWI exception, it only took the U.S. Supreme Court four years to shoot it down. How long will this new attempt last? It's hard to say . . . but let's look a little more closely at the dissent.

Dissent: Nice try with the search incident to arrest exception.

In general, the search incident to arrest exception allows the police to search a person and the area within the person’s reach for two reasons: to protect the police and preserve evidence. These two reasons have been the only justification for the exception since the judiciary created it.

The Bernard majority asserted that because the search incident to arrest exception allows police to search “a person,” extracting breath against a suspect’s will is no different from a pat-down for weapons or confiscation of contraband from a jacket pocket. Where the majority trips over itself is in its attempt to connect its definition of a breath test as a search of a person with either of the justifications--protecting police and preventing the destruction of evidence--that make the search incident to arrest exception reasonable.

Halitosis aside, a suspect’s breath presents no danger to the police, and there is nothing a suspect can do to destroy evidence of alcohol in the breath. But above all, nobody can forget that there is that binding federal precedent on this precise issue: Missouri v. McNeely determined that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the body is not enough to justify a categorical exception to a fundamental constitutional right. It was almost as if the U.S. Supreme Court envisioned Minnesota trying to create a new, flawed exception to the warrant requirement and tried to stop them before they got that far. If that was the case, they failed, in part because . . .

Dissent: The legislature can't criminalize the exercise of constitutional rights.

Finally, the Minnesota statute that criminalizes refusal to submit to testing does so regardless of the type of test refused. Therefore, with respect to blood and urine tests, Bernard is irrelevant. The majority itself admits (without explicitly stating it) that blood and urine tests still require a search warrant to pass constitutional muster, and suspects have the right to refuse any warrantless search the police need a warrant to legally conduct. Minnesota law criminalizes the exercise of that right. That is about as unconstitutional as it gets.

These are our first impressions of the Bernard decision. We'll go into greater depth in another blog post, fully dissecting the decision and its implications for the future (that post will get very legal-ly and wordy, so be warned - you'll want to bring your reading glasses). What we can say for certain right now is that it is highly unlikely that Bernard will be the last word on the constitutionality of Minnesota's test refusal law.

Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.


Bernard Opinion Released Today

Here it is, at last. The opinion we've all been waiting for: State v. Bernard.

According to our Minnesota Supreme Court:

1. Because a warrantless search of appellant’s breath would have been constitutional as a search incident to a valid arrest, charging appellant with violating Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2 (2014), for refusing to take a breathalyzer in this circumstance does not implicate a fundamental right.

2. Because Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2, is a reasonable means to a permissive object, it does not violate appellant’s right to due process under the United States or Minnesota Constitutions.

The Court of Appeals decision is affirmed.

Read the full opinion here.

Our legal analysis of the opinion is in the works (we've got some opinions of our own to share as well).

Check back later today for our complete Bernard breakdown, including what today's decision means for drivers and attorneys, including those with cases currently pending in Minnesota courts.

Breaking News: Minnesota Supreme Court To Issue Bernard Decision on Wednesday

We just received notice that the Minnesota Supreme Court will issue its potentially groundbreaking decision in State v. Bernard this upcoming Wednesday, February 11, 2015. In the Bernard case, the Court is being asked to decide whether it is constitutional for the government to criminalize an individual's refusal to submit to a warrantless (and thus presumptively illegal) search.

Want to know more?

You've got two days to watch the oral arguments presented in the case here.

You can read some of our speculation here.

We were given permission to file an amicus curiae brief in this case, and filed on behalf of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, two very notable and worthy defense organizations in Minnesota.

Any further speculation on this decision is pointless at this point, as we'll have our answer in two days. With hundreds of cases on hold pending this decision, Wednesday is certain to be a very big day.

The Evolution of the Consent Search Doctrine

Series: The Evolution of the Consent Search Doctrine

As we mentioned in our previous post in this series, the consent search exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement is a relatively recent, judicially-crafted doctrine. Tracing its evolution—or should I say, devolution—reveals a gradual but steady shift away from actual consent (as the right of every individual) toward “consent” as “any cooperation with law enforcement in the absence of extreme and obvious coercion.”
The consent search exception has devolved into a law enforcement tool used liberally and intentionally by the authorities to pressure or trick individuals into doing what they are told. 
Lest this generalization offend some readers, I offer the wise words of former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Esther Tomljanovich, from the case of State v. George, written in 1997:
Our decisions in this case and in [State v.] Dezso represent what I believe will be an ongoing attempt to come to grips with the increasing use by state troopers and police officers of subtle tactics to get motorists and others to “consent” to searches. It appears state troopers and police officers are receiving training on getting “consent” to search, similar to the training sales people receive in getting people to agree to buy things they do not want. One technique is to ask the defendant a question along the following lines: “You wouldn't mind if I looked in the truck, would you?” If the person says “no,” the officer searches. Consumer protection laws provide some protection to consumers who, as a result of sales pitches from sales people, “consent” to purchase products they do not want. We are not dealing with vacuum cleaners in this case but with the liberty and privacy interests of all the people of the State of Minnesota, and we have an obligation to ourselves and to the Constitution of this State to do what we can, in our limited role as a court of last resort, to provide reasonable protection to those interests.
Justice Tomljanovich’s foresight was 20/20. In the year and a half since the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Brooks, the legitimacy of the consent search exception—at least in the DWI context—has been eviscerated. We have been unable to find a single case where the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s finding of coercion in the DWI context. Not when the driver told the officer he did not consent, and not even when an individual had been attacked by police dogs just prior to allegedly giving consent. Equally distressing is the recent attempt by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, in State v. Bernard, to revive the long dead “hypothetical warrant doctrine,” which essentially nullifies the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement by cutting out the pre-search review of probable cause by a neutral magistrate.
How did we get here? Historically, Minnesota courts have construed the consent search exception to the warrant requirement more narrowly than the United States Supreme Court. In cases decided in 1969 (State v. Mitchell), 1970 (State v. High), and 1999 (State v. Harris), the Minnesota Supreme Court found that just the arrest—and even a pre-arrest seizure—of a suspect pretty much ruled out any “free and voluntary consent.” Their logic was simple and direct: once law enforcement has asserted its authority over you, law enforcement has authority over you. They have guns, tazers, chemical spray, retractable batons, and the training in how to use them; you have the duty to obey, to let them order you around, take your shoes and wallet, and lock your hands behind your back. The imbalance of power is inherently coercive, and it is the court’s duty to protect individuals from abuse of government power. 
Decades worth of Minnesota judges enforcing the protections of the Fourth Amendment didn’t just happen in a vacuum. The Court’s decisions in Mitchell and High came in the wake of the federal government’s 1967 mandate that all states implement an implied consent law. Imagine the justices’ jaws dropping; what could be more ridiculous than finding that an individual gave free and voluntary consent when that “consent” was created by the legislature and automatically given when the individual got behind the wheel? Again, lest some take offense, the Court said it best in 1976, in Prideaux v. Dept. of Public Safety
The obvious and intended effect of the implied-consent law is to coerce the driver suspected of driving under the influence into ‘consenting’ to chemical testing, thereby allowing scientific evidence of his blood-alcohol content to be used against him in a subsequent prosecution for that offense.
Those scare quotes around the word “consenting?” Those were added by the Supreme Court . . . the same Supreme Court that, approximately 37 years later, decided that the “obvious and intended effect of the implied-consent law” is to “make it clear to drivers that they have a choice as to whether to submit to testing.” That’s quite a turnaround.
So, we’ve seen the concept of “consent” evolve slowly over the course of decades, before seeing a sudden, radical redefinition of the concept in 2013. Before Brooks, putting a suspect in handcuffs was often enough to render any consent involuntary, and reading a driver the Implied Consent Advisory was “obviously coercive.” After Brooks, neither of those factors appear to matter.
So what does matter? We’ll discuss that in the next post, when we analyze Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment: State v. Brooks.

This is the second post in our blog series, Consent as an Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement: DWI Alcohol Testing. In this series we discuss: 

1. The History of the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement

2. The Evolution of the Consent Search Doctrine 

3. Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment: State v. Brooks 

4. Consent as a Matter of Law: The Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment

5. The Constitutional Implications of Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment

6. The Future of the Consent Search Doctrine



Breaking News - Submission Is Not Consent


We interrupt the consent search blog series currently in progress to bring you breaking news: Minnesota district court judges are finally finding that submission to lawful authority is not consent. Relying on the 8th Circuit’s 2004 and 2005 decisions in U.S. v. Gray and U.S. v. Sanders, at least two brave judges are resuscitating the Fourth Amendment by reminding the State that an individual’s consent to a warrantless search may always be withdrawn. Drivers reserve the right to change their minds, and “no” once again means “no.”

Don’t break out the champagne yet, though. These brave district court judges, and their refreshingly true-to-the-constitution decisions, will likely face reversal on appeal when the Court of Appeals finds consent under its interpretation of State v. Brooks. We’re still looking, but we have yet to find a single DWI test coercion case the Court of Appeals couldn’t convert to consent.

So, what is the take-away? Lawyers need to understand the critical legal distinction between submission and consent so that they can effectively counsel drivers about their constitutional rights. In State v. Hoven, the Minnesota Supreme Court noted, as did the federal court in Gray and Sanders, that an individual may withdraw consent to a warrantless search.

In the DWI context, drivers have the constitutional right to see a warrant before law enforcement obtain a blood, breath, or urine sample. According to the courts, drivers should be able to withdraw their consent to a warrantless search by expressing their intent to withdraw consent with an unequivocal act or statement (I’ll give an example of what that looks like in a minute). Once a driver withdraws his or her consent, the driver may then submit to the warrantless test law enforcement tells them they are “required by law” to take … because submitting to that test is not the same thing as consenting to it.  Without valid consent – or one of the other judicially-crafted exceptions to the constitution – the results of a warrantless test must be suppressed.

Attorneys cannot ethically or legally counsel a client to commit the crime of test refusal, but attorneys must inform clients that an unequivocal withdrawal of consent by word or action is a constitutional right. While this isn’t legal advice, something like this oughtta do it: “I withdraw my implied consent to a warrantless search and I do not freely and voluntarily consent to the warrantless test of my blood, breath, or urine. I am submitting to a chemical test only because I am required to do so by law, and I am acquiescing to a claim of lawful authority. I do not consent.”

Stay tuned for the next installment in the consent search series: The Evolution of the Consent Search Doctrine.




The History of the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement Constitution didn't come with built-in exceptions; courts have created them. It wasn't until 1921, in Amos v. United States, that the United States Supreme Court first recognized the possibility of a consent exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement. It took another 25 years, in Zap v. United States, for the Court to turn the possibility into a reality. Before 1946, you couldn't waive your right to a warrant even if you wanted to; every search had to be authorized by a warrant issued by a neutral magistrate based on probable cause. The writers of our Constitution knew all-too-well the danger posed to personal liberty by unchecked, unilateral action by one branch of government. Hence, the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement.

Given our nation’s belief in individual freedom, it makes sense that a warrantless search is reasonable when it is conducted with the permission of the person searched. In a society based on law, the concept of agreement and consent should be given a weight and dignity of its own. When police officers ask an individual for consent to search, it reinforces the rule of law for the individual to actually consent (or refuse to consent), and for the police to act in accordance, by executing the consensual search (or getting a warrant). That's why, when the Court created the consent search exception in the 1946 Zap case, the Court relied on actual consent; an individual had to give an intentional, knowing, and voluntary waiver of his or her Fourth Amendment rights before a search would be considered consensual. Only the truly voluntary relinquishment of the right to a warrant could support the constitutionality of a warrantless search.

Actual consent – “Yes, I give you permission to search” or “No, come back with a warrant” – remained the benchmark for about 50 years. Then, in 1973, the Court issued its decision in Schneckloth v. Bustamonte. In that case, the Court developed a new approach to the consent search doctrine by shifting the criteria for consent from actual, express consent given freely and intentionally, to "consent" as determined by the court's application of a “voluntariness” test to "the totality of the circumstances."

The significance of this shift cannot be overstated; after Bustamonte, actual, express consent (or refusal to consent) was no longer determinative. Even when there was no actual, express consent, the courts began to find "consent" by asking not whether an individual consented, but rather whether a reasonable officer would have construed the individual's actions as consent. As of 1976, courts could find "consent" as a matter of law even when there was no actual, express, voluntary consent as a matter of fact.

In Bustamonte, the Court separated consent search analysis from the original characteristics that made consent searches reasonable. Instead of focusing on the individual’s actual consent to forego a constitutional protection as the basis for the doctrine, the Court emphasized the balance between law enforcement officials’ interest in conducting searches and the private citizen’s fear of coercion. This new focus on law enforcement interests moved the doctrine of the consent search exception away from an objective standard, which focused on a particular person’s actual waiver of his or her constitutional right, to a subjective standard, which assessed whether a law enforcement officer’s actions coerced the suspect into permitting a warrantless search. "Consent" was determined by the one asking for it, not the one giving it.

Law enforcement has no complaints about this shift, but for individuals, the consent search situation has only gone downhill since Bustamonte. Subsequent court decisions have further distanced the consent search exception from its original justification by shifting the focus of consent analysis entirely away from the objective, actual manifestation of an individual’s consent to the court's interpretation of the facts from the officer’s perspective in the absence of express consent. In a recent case here in Minnesota, the Court of Appeals found free and voluntary consent from a 21-year veteran of our U.S. Navy, even when the veteran told the officer who arrested him “I guess I will take your test, but I am not consenting.” This approach goes far beyond cases that have come before, and appears to be ushering in a new consent calculation: submission to a search automatically equals consent to that search.

This plays out in a dangerous way in the context of warrantless DWI searches: the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory says "Minnesota law requires you to submit to a chemical test" and "refusal to submit is a crime." The Advisory doesn't mention the fact that if a driver refuses, no test will be performed against his will. And law enforcement is not required to clarify that a driver can (and must) submit to a warrantless search to obey the law without giving free and voluntary consent to that warrantless search.

What if the Implied Consent Advisory said "Minnesota law requires you to submit to a haircut" and "refusing to submit to a haircut is a crime"? You'd submit to the haircut to avoid the crime, even if you didn't want a haircut, right? You might even say, "I’ll submit to this haircut because it's the only way I can avoid committing a crime, but I am not consenting to this haircut.” And it logically follows that you'd refuse to submit to a haircut if you could do so without committing a crime. Well, according to Minnesota law, in that situation you freely and voluntarily consented to the haircut.

This is the first post in our blog series, Consent as an Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement: DWI Alcohol Testing. In this series we discuss: 

1. The History of the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement

2. The Evolution of the Consent Search Doctrine 

3. Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment: State v. Brooks 

4. Consent as a Matter of Law: The Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment

5. The Constitutional Implications of Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment

6. The Future of the Consent Search Doctrine

Continue Reading...

Series: Consent as an Exception to the Fourth Amendment

Photo via Bruce Bortin/FlickrNearly two years ago, the United States Supreme Court held in Missouri v. McNeely that police must obtain a search warrant in most DWI alcohol test cases because the dissipation of alcohol in the body is not enough to make an exception to the warrant requirement. Last year, in State v. Brooks, the Minnesota Supreme Court relied on a judicially-crafted exception to the warrant requirement when it held that police in Minnesota do not need to obtain a search warrant when a driver “freely and voluntarily” consents to a DWI alcohol test (and yes, every type of DWI test, whether it's by blood, breath, or urine, is most definitely a constitutionally protected search). 

At first glance, the concept of consent – you ask me for permission and I say yes or no – seems simple and straightforward. Through the looking glass of the legal system, however, consent is complicated. In the world of DWI chemical testing, consent has become one of Minnesota’s most litigated issues, both at the district court level, in the appellate courts . . . and even in federal court.

The approach of Minnesota's courts towards this issue of "consent" arises from the blurring of two concepts: consent and submission. Under current Minnesota law, submission can be legally compelled; submission to DWI testing is required by law and refusal to submit is a crime. Consent, on the other hand, must be intentional, free, and voluntary, and cannot be coerced or compelled by law. By definition, consent to search is the free and voluntary waiver of the fundamental constitutional right to be free from warrantless searches. When actual consent to a warrantless search is freely and voluntarily given to law enforcement by an individual, a warrantless search is constitutional. (Even then, though, the individual retains the right to withdraw consent at any time, as well as limit the scope of the consent.)

Consent is the critical issue because without free and voluntary consent, a search – even one the law requires you to submit to – is unconstitutional. When submission is required by law, how do we differentiate consent?

This is the introductory post of our blog series, Consent as an Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement: DWI Alcohol Testing. In our upcoming posts we'll discuss:  

1. The History of the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement

2. The Evolution of the Consent Search Doctrine 

3. Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment: State v. Brooks 

4. Consent as a Matter of Law: The Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment

5. The Constitutional Implications of Minnesota’s New Standard for the Consent Exception to the Fourth Amendment

6. The Future of the Consent Search Doctrine