Science As Your Best Defense: Landing the Right Attorney To Defend Your DWI

Nobody wants to be arrested for a DWI. In my experience, very few people ever set out for the evening saying, "let's roll the dice and see if we can get away with driving while impaired tonight." The few folks that do say or think something like that probably have their particular defense attorney on speed dial, but for the majority of Minnesotans, the fact remains that getting arrested for DWI is usually a shock, and after it happens, the shocks just keep coming.

People proactively hire an estate law attorney when they want to provide for their family's future. People proactively hire a patent attorney when they want to protect a new invention. People hire a business law attorney when they want to take a new idea and turn it into a (hopefully successful) business.

But nobody proactively hires a DWI defense attorney. Shortly after being arrested for DWI comes the scramble -- the scramble to get out of jail, to get back to work, to deal with the shame, to deal with the impact losing your license or your car can have on your family . . . and the scramble to find a defense attorney.

A good DWI defense attorney helps with all of those other situations, but finding a good one is the type of "scramble" that requires a lot of extra care. There are a lot of attorneys out there who are happy to take as much of a person's money as they think they can get away with, while also having every intention of putting as little effort as possible into the case. We call 'em "dump truck" attorneys in Minnesota, or "meet 'em, greet 'em, and plead 'em" attorneys.

All of this was just a roundabout way of asking the rhetorical question, "what makes for a good DWI defense attorney?" I can't answer that question completely in this post, but I can make one good start -- a good DWI defense attorney is one who is repeatedly asked to educate other defense attorneys on how to be better defense attorneys. 

Enter Chuck Ramsay, founding partner of Ramsay Law Firm. He's got a long list of credentials; today's post is just to highlight that he is once again taking up his role as faculty for the National College of DUI Defense, and spending his weekend teaching at the multi-day "Science As Your Best Defense" seminar alongside all of the other big names in DWI defense (if you're keeping track, you'll notice that he's the only attorney from Minnesota to carry such an honor). 

If you've been arrested for a DWI in Minnesota, there is one tiny bit of good news amidst the scramble to put your life back in order: you got arrested in the one state that Charles Ramsay continues to practice DWI defense, day-in and day-out. Give him a call. 

Can You Now Have Your Prior DWI Refusal Conviction Removed


This week our firm scored a major victory when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in our favor in the Thompson case.  It is now settled that Minnesota cannot criminally charge a driver for refusing a urine or blood test.  One of our attorneys, Daniel Koewler, who actually argued the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, recently spoke with local media outlets about the decision and its future impact on DWIs in the state.  

The bottom line is that while the issue of urine and blood test refusals has been put to bed, a new issue has now surfaced: the questionable validity of previous DWI convictions based on refusing a urine or blood test.  If the refusal law is unconstitutional how can these previous convictions stand?  

This new challenge to old convictions will depend heavily on the retroactive effect of constitutional rulings.  As we pointed out in our previous blog post, when a law is ruled unconstitutional, it is as if the law never existed.  

Obviously, any DWI conviction on someone’s record is bad, and now we have a way to go back and attack any conviction based on the unconstitutional law.

If you have been convicted of DWI for refusing a blood or urine test call Ramsay Law Firm to discuss your options.

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Minnesota DWI Test Refusal Law Unconstitutional

Today the Minnesota Supreme Court issued two long-awaited decisions dealing with the future of Minnesota's DWI laws.

The first was State v. Thompson, where Ramsay Law Firm argued that Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law is unconstitutional as applied to any demand for a urine sample. The Supreme Court agreed with us, and struck down the law as unconstitutional. (Click that link for a copy of the Thompson order).

The second was State v. Trahan, where the Supreme Court addressed the concept of "exigent circumstances" -- basically, when are circumstances so difficult that law enforcement can skip the warrant process entirely and simply take a blood or urine sample from a driver. In that case, the Supreme Court made it clear that the State cannot assume that every DWI case has exigent circumstances, and it will take some very special facts in order to actually prove that there was "no time to get a warrant." (click that link for a copy of the Trahan order).

We're very happy to have won this case; it's an issue we've been fighting for over a decade. The only question remaining (with respect to Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law) is whether or not the State of Minnesota will try to appeal this decision to the United States Supreme Court. Barring further appeal, the constitutionality of Minnesota's DWI laws is now much more settled than it has been for years. 

Minnesota's Prescription DWI Drug Laws Can Snare Even Innocent Conduct

A 37-year veteran of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and staunch proponent of aggressive DWI laws may have been guilty of breaking Minnesota’s DWI laws without even realizing it. His story highlights the absurdity of Minnesota’s prescription drug DWI laws, a story about Minnesota’s Prescription Drug DWI Laws that we've discussed here in the past.

Here's what you need to know: It is a crime to drive a car in Minnesota with schedule I or II narcotics in your system – 

     1.     even when you have a prescription, and

     2.     even when you are not impaired in any way.

Lucky for Minnesotans, the Legislature realizes that this is absurd – that’s why it is an affirmative defense to the criminal charges to prove that you had a valid prescription.

However, the Legislature missed the boat on one key point; even with a valid prescription, you will still lose your license if you have any of a wide variety of prescription drugs in your system. See our previous blog post about DWI-Drugs for more about the law (but that’s not required reading). But here are the two relevant statutes:

The crime of DWI includes:


It is a crime for any person to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle… when: (7) the person's body contains any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.


Minnesota Statute, Sec. 169A.20, Subd. 1 (emphasis added).

The law also requires the Commissioner revoke one’s license to drive for the same conduct:

[T]he person submitted to a test and the test results indicate … the presence of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II or its metabolite, … then the commissioner shall revoke the person's license or permit to drive….

Minnesota Statute, Sec. 169A.52, Subd. 4(a) (again, emphasis added)

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

Want a concrete example of how crazy these current DWI laws are? Last week during a Minnesota DWI Task Force meeting Joel Watne, the retired assistant attorney general we referenced at the start of this blog, attempted to justify the current DWI prescription drug law by telling his own story. According to this story, Mr Watne underwent a surgical procedure and a doctor prescribed him a pain killer – “oxy,” I believe he said. Knowing that it was a crime to drive while having a Schedule II drug in his system and that he would lose his license, he described how a 37-year veteran of the attorney general’s office would make sure he was not breaking the law:

“I stopped taking the medication before I drove.”

Makes sense, right? Mr. Watne’s situation is not unique – thousands undergo routine surgery every year, and are prescribed pain medication. But here’s the thing: how could Mr. Watne know that the oxy was no longer detectible in his blood or urine? One member of the DWI Task Force pointed out that it is not only a crime to have the drug in his system, but it is also a crime to have a metabolite detected, and metabolites can stay in your system for days.

While it would be difficult to estimate the amount of time oxycodone (oxycontin®) would have been detectible in Mr. Watne’s blood or urine, we do know that as oxycodone metabolizes it can be found as morphine for a much longer period of time! (We’ve defended cases like this in other contexts, but the pharmacology is fascinating.)

The Rest of the Story…

The irony is this: Mr. Watne would never intentionally do anything to violate the law, particularly Minnesota’s impaired driving laws – he was partly responsible for drafting many of them. But he may have very well violated them, despite the best of intentions, and without ever posing any risk to himself or others.

If Mr. Watne continues this behavior he could find himself involved in a traffic accident someday with dire consequences. If officers see a prescription bottle and Mr. Watne is a bit dazed (from the accident), they could force him to submit to a blood or urine test that exposes a controlled II prescription drug in his system, either some form of oxy, or (even worse) morphine . . . which he did not even take!

He would need a hell of a good attorney and a forensic expert to help him prove he took a pain narcotic in accordance with his prescription that metabolized into morphine, and he was not impaired. If successful we might be able to get Mr. Watne acquitted of criminal charges, but under the current law, it would be impossible to save Joel Watne’s driver’s license 

Could Joel Watne one day be our client? Unless and until the Legislature changes the absurd consequences of our DWI law, and allows drivers to at least try to provide proof of a valid prescription to defend against a license revocation, the chance exists.

Final Briefs Submitted in Trahan and Thompson

We recently witnessed significant upheaval in the area of DWI law (again). If you missed it, the United States Supreme Court found portions of Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law unconstitutional. Specifically, it is no longer a crime for a driver to refuse to submit to a blood test after being arrested for DWI (now, if the police have a warrant, that's another matter . . .)

But blood tests are not the only tests given in Minnesota -- we are one of the very few states that still use urine alcohol testing. While the U.S. Supreme Court did not directly address whether or not it is constitutional to refuse to submit to a urine test (note: they did reverse one of our client's convictions that was based on a urine test) the issue is about to be decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court

We held oral arguments on Thompson (which will decide if drivers can legally say "no" to warrantless urine tests) in the beginning of June, and if you're really that interested you can watch the oral arguments here

But the reason for all that background is this: after the Bernard decision came out, the Supreme Court ordered "supplemental" briefing in Thompson  -- basically, an opportunity for all the attorneys to adjust their arguments to take into account these recent legal developments.

Wanna read those supplemental briefs? If so . . . here you go. Note that these are just for the Thompson (urine refusal) case . . . we'll get you the Trahan (blood refusal) supplemental briefs shortly. Enjoy!

The State's Brief

Our Brief

The ACLU Amicus Brief

Minnesota Attorney General's Amicus Brief



Upcoming Web Seminar Explaining the Recent Bernard Decision

Wondering what the recently issued Bernard decision means for DWI law in Minnesota?

We've got you covered. We've partnered with MinnCLE to present an hour-long webcast on Wednesday, June 29 from 9:00 - 10:00. The seminar has been pre-approved for one CLE credit, and in it we'll be describing the immediate consequences of the Bernard decision, the potential consequences, and the areas of law that were left unaddressed.

Don't wait until tomorrow - sign up today (Event Code 218996). We're already looking forward to your questions. 

Charles Ramsay Discusses the Bernard Decision With KARE11 News

Ramsay Law Firm's Charles Ramsay recently appeared on KARE 11 news to discuss the impact of the recently issued Bernard decision, handed down by the United States Supreme Court on Thursday. 

While breath testing is no longer considered to be protected by the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment, blood testing is, and urine testing is . . . an open question.

Here's the video. 

SCOTUS Issues Bernard Decision

Today we all received the long-awaited decision from the United States Supreme Court in Bernard v. Minnesota (technically it was three consolidated cases, but here we'll just refer to the whole decision as "Bernard.")

First things first -- if you want to read the opinion, you can find it by clicking right here




On to the meat of it: The Bernard decision consists of three basic holdings:

1. DWI breath alcohol tests now qualify as "searches incident to arrest." That means they are not protected by the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment and a driver can constitutionally be penalized criminally if they refuse to submit to such a test. This implicates everyone who refuses a breath test.

2. DWI blood alcohol tests do not qualify as "searches incident to arrest." That means that drivers have the absolute right to say "no" or "get a warrant" if an officer demands a blood test, and Minnesota's DWI test refusal law is unconstitutional with respect to demands for blood tests. This implicates everyone who refuses a blood test.

3. If a driver says "yes" to a demand for a DWI test after being told that refusal to submit to that test is a crime, the State can't claim that the driver's "implied consent" to submit to the test means that they "actually" consented. This potentially implicates everyone who agrees to submit to any type of test. 

That's what Bernard says; here's what it doesn't say:

1. What is the status of urine tests? The vast majority of states don't even try to use urine tests in DWI cases; Minnesota is the rare exception. Bernard leaves open the question of whether or not a urine test can be considered a "search incident to arrest" or whether it has the same protections as a blood test (note that Ramsay Law Firm argued this exact issue in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court this month, and the answer is in the pipeline). 

2. What does it mean to "consent" to a blood, breath, or urine test . . . especially after being told that "refusal to take a test is a crime (when that is only true sometimes). The Supreme Court disposed of the concept of "implied consent" when it comes to the government's ability to try and obtain criminal evidence, which opens the door wide open for the Courts to reconsider what it takes to actually "freely and voluntarily" consent to a DWI test. 

Some of the consequences of the Bernard decision:

1. We're going to see a renewed emphasis on the pitfalls of breath testing, and our firm will be spending much more time exposing the serious limitations that impact breath tests on behalf of our clients. Law enforcement will undoubtedly be using breath tests at every opportunity in order to avoid the warrant requirement, meaning the critical shortcomings that affect breath tests (and not blood tests) are going to become much more glaring.

2. The Minnesota Legislature is going to need to rewrite Minnesota's Implied Consent law. As written, the Advisory read to every arrested driver informs them that they are "required by law" to submit to testing and that "refusal is a crime," statements that are simply not true in light of Bernard.

We'll be providing much, much more analysis of the decision in the near future -- in the local media, at seminars sponsored by Minnesota CLE, and of course, right here on our blog. Stay informed.

But for now, things are certainly interesting. 

Supreme Court Update (Of Sorts . . . )

Things are about to get interesting when it comes to the state of DWI law in Minnesota. In the near future we've got two big events: The United States Supreme Court's decision in Bernard v. Minnesota, and oral arguments before the Minnesota Supreme Court in the Thompson and Trahan cases.

Bernard v. Minnesota

The United States Supreme Court issues its decisions on Mondays at 9:30 a.m. EDT, and goes on summer recess in July. Because the Court almost always issues a decision in the same term that a case was argued (and Bernard was argued this term) we can expect a decision sometime in June. 

So, we should get an answer regarding the constitutionality of Minnesota's DWI breath testing program within a month -- either on June 6, June 13, June 20, or June 27. For what it's worth, I'm guessing we'll get a decision on June 20; others believe that because Bernard was one of the last cases argued, it'll be one of the last decisions issued, and we'll get an answer to all our questions on June 27. 

We'll be posting the decision as soon as it is issued, along with our initial analysis, so no need to sit on the courthouse steps in Washington D.C., just check our blog for the next few Mondays any time after 9:30 a.m.

Thompson & Trahan

On the local front, Ramsay Law Firm will be arguing the Thompson case at the Minnesota Supreme Court next Wednesday, June 8, at 10:00 a.m.  The Minnesota State Appellate Public Defender's Office will be arguing the Trahan case one hour earlier, at 9:00 a.m. That means the whole morning will be dedicated to one question: is it constitutional to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless demand for a blood or a urine test.

Seating at the Minnesota Supreme Court is limited, so if you want to observe the arguments live, it wouldn't hurt to get there a little early. In the alternative, you can always wait until Wednesday evening to watch the video rebroadcast


Supreme Court Releases Audio Recording of Bernard Argument

The United States Supreme Court posted the audio of the Bernard argument this morning. Download it and review it at your leisure!

We highly recommend that everyone take the time to listen to the argument or read the transcript (or both if you are a Constitution enthusiast with a serious lack of plans this weekend). 

If you want to get right to the juicy bits, we’ve provided time stamps for some of the key portions of the argument below, including: 

32:25 Justice Roberts goes on the offensive, comparing the dangers of texting while driving to driving under the influence, pointing out that if law enforcement don’t have the authority to dig though driver’s cell phones they shouldn’t have the authority to dig through their bodies.

 43:35 Justice Kennedy discusses the “wake of our recent cases” regarding the undisputed fact that technological advancements make obtaining warrants quicker and easier than ever, and that warrants are the preferred method of executing a search.

44:08 Justice Kennedy points out that to rule in favor of the State would be to grant an “extraordinary exception” to the Fourth Amendment.

48:46 Justice Breyer realizes that the breath tests at issue in this case are not roadside breath tests, but evidentiary tests that are actually taken at the local police station and/or jail, and how that knowledge changes the tone of the entire argument.

56:00 Justice Sotomayor points out that the State is asking the Court to craft a new, “drastic” exception to the Fourth Amendment.

The whole argument is worth listening to, these are just some of the highlights.

Check back often as we will continue to provide analysis of Bernard v. Minnesota until a decision is issued—hopefully sometime in early June.

Minnesota's Test Refusal Law Argued at the U.S. Supreme Court Today

This morning the United States Supreme Court heard attorneys’ arguments on Bernard, a case which will decide whether drivers may be charged with a crime for refusing to submit to warrantless DWI alcohol tests.

Today’s oral argument comes after many years of fighting to uphold the promises and protections embedded in the United States Constitution, namely, the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches. Transcript of the argument can be found here.

More than four years ago we predicted the end of Minnesota’s DWI test refusal law because it violated individuals’ constitutional rights.

Two years ago we predicted the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Bernard and Minnesota’s test refusal law. “[T]he United States Supreme Court still has the final say on this issue, as it involves one of our core (perhaps the core) constitutional protections.”

The court which currently consists of eight members is expected to issue its decision in June.

Until then, check back often for analysis and audio of the argument. 

Bernard Brief Bank: All Amicus Briefs Have Been Filed

In case you didn't already know, the United States Supreme Court is set to determine whether or not Minnesota's DWI laws are constitutional. The highest Court accepted review of three cases - here they are, with hyperlinks to the Supreme Court docket for each case:

Bernard v. Minnesota (14-1470): is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?

Birchfield v. North Dakota (14-1468): Is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?

Beylund v. North Dakota (14-1507): Is it constitutional for a state to claim that a driver "consented" to a warrantless search when that driver was threatened with the crime of refusal? 




The briefs in support of the Appellants (Bernard, Birchfield, and Beylund) have already been filed, as have the briefs filed by several amicus curiae ("Friends of the Court," attorneys love using Latin phrases).

The briefs in support of Respondents (the States of Minnesota and North Dakota) filed their own briefs, and now we’ve received copies of the amicus curiae briefs filed in support of those Respondents (you can find links to those briefs below)

Oral Arguments are scheduled for April 20, 2016.

We expect a decision in June

And one still-unresolved question (although it’s looking like we know the answer) is whether or not the cases will be heard by an 8 member court, or a full 9 member court.


Here is a link to our blog post providing the three “merits” briefs filed by the Petitioners.

Here is a link to half of the “amicus” briefs filed in support of the Petitioners.

Here is a link to the other half of the “amicus” briefs filed in support of Petitioners.

Here is a link to the three “merits” briefs filed by the Respondents.

And, here’s your update: Four “amicus” briefs filed in support of Respondent’s, including a brief filed by the Solicitor General of the United States of America. There is also one amicus brief “in support of neither party.”

California District Attorney’s Association

Council of State Governments, et. al.

New Jersey (and Seventeen Other States)

United States Solicitor General

Indiana Tech Law School Amicus Project (in support of neither party)

Petitioners have a little less than a month to file a reply brief, and then the written portion of this appeal will be complete – at that point, we’ll be waiting for oral arguments, scheduled for April 20.

Bernard Brief Bank: Respondent's Briefs Are Filed

In case you didn't already know, the United States Supreme Court is set to determine whether or not Minnesota's DWI laws are constitutional. The highest Court accepted review of three cases - here they are, with hyperlinks to the Supreme Court docket for each case:

Bernard v. Minnesota (14-1470): is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?

Birchfield v. North Dakota (14-1468): Is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?

Beylund v. North Dakota (14-1507): Is it constitutional for a state to claim that a driver "consented" to a warrantless search when that driver was threatened with the crime of refusal? 




The briefs in support of the Appellants (Bernard, Birchfield, and Beylund) have already been filed, as have the briefs filed by several amicus curiae ("Friends of the Court," attorneys love using Latin phrases).

Respondents (the States of Minnesota and North Dakota) recently filed their briefs, and we’ve provided copies of them below.

Oral Arguments are scheduled for April 20, 2016.

We expect a decision in June

And one still-unresolved question is whether or not the cases will be heard by an 8 member court, or a full 9 member court.


Here is a link to our blog post providing the three “merits” briefs filed by the Petitioners.

Here is a link to half of the “amicus” briefs filed in support of the Petitioners.

Here is a link to the other half of the “amicus” briefs filed in support of Petitioners.

And, here’s your update: The three “merits” briefs filed by Respondents (North Dakota and Minnesota)

Bernard v. Minnesota

Birchfield v. North Dakota

Beylund v. North Dakota

Check back often, we'll be posting the rest of the amicus briefs in support of Respondent soon (along with some analysis)


Bernard Appeal May Be Heard By Full Supreme Court

For those of you who don't know, oral arguments in the case of State v. Bernard (where the United States Supreme Court will determine whether Minnesota's DWI Test refusal law is constitutional) are scheduled for April 20, 2016. 

That's a little over a month from now; since we filed our briefs, the Court was rocked by the death of one of its most staunch protectors of the Fourth Amendment, Antonin Scalia. But today, President Obama officially announced his nominee to replace Justice Scalia -- Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

Anyone paying attention already knows that Republican Senators have vowed to withhold approval of anyone President Obama nominates, which lead most of those involved in the Bernard case to expect the final decision to come from 8, not 9, justices . . . meaning a chance of a "split decision" that provides no guidance (for the record, I personally don't believe that's a realistic possibility).

But now things are interesting -- Judge Garland appears to be the type of nominee that would be very palatable to Senate Republicans -- he's already been approved by the Senate before (when appointed to the D.C. circuit), and Senator Orrin Hatch (a high ranking member of the Senate Judicial Committee) has repeatedly noted that Garland would make a fine "consensus nominee" since as early as 2010. 

So -- how will the timing work out? The average time to appoint a nominated Supreme Court Justice is just 25 days. Chief Justice Roberts' appointment occurred 23 days after his nomination (well, his second nomination), while Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's approval process took 33 days and Justice John Paul Stevens took just 19 days. 

It might not be likely that Judge Garland will be appointed in less than a month (and there is the chance he might not be appointed at all) but President Obama appears to have picked a nominee with an eye towards a speedy and relatively non-partisan approval process.

What the addition of Justice Garland to the Supreme Court might do to the eventual outcome of the Bernard case is, of course, a subject for another blog. But for now, whether the Court consists of 8 or 9 members, all we currently know is that oral arguments are scheduled for April 20, and we are still expecting a decision in June of this year. 

Breaking News: Minnesota Supreme Court Grants Review of Thompson (DWI Test Refusal Law)

Back in December we posted the result of our appeal in the case of State v. Thompson, where the Court of Appeals ruled that Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law was unconstitutional if law enforcement demanded a blood or a urine sample. Since then, the Court of Appeals has continued to affirm the fact that our DWI test refusal law is unconstitutional

The Thompson case is heading to the next level of review: We just received this order granting the State's petition for review, meaning that the Minnesota Supreme Court is set to have the final word on Minnesota's DWI test refusal law in 2016, and we'll be arguing that it is unconstitutional. 

Now, if you've been following our blog (or just legal news in general) you'll recall that the Minnesota Supreme Court already decided to review the test refusal law in the case of State v. Trahan. So why is this "breaking news?"

Trahan was just a blood case, whereas Thompson involves demands for both blood and urine samples, which may be why the Minnesota Supreme Court accepted review despite previously accepting Trahan. But there is more; this order granting review has some very specific details:

  1. Oral arguments will be held the second week of June. 
  2. The Minnesota Attorney General's Office has been "invited" to participate as amicus curiae ("Friend of the Court") which is effectively an order to participate in the matter.
  3. In addition to the issues previously presented in the case, the Court is also ordering us to address the fundamental question of what the appropriate legal framework is for addressing the constitutionality of our DWI test refusal law (as in, is this a due process challenge, a Fourth Amendment challenge, or some other challenge?). This additional question, not previously raised in the case, could have very broad legal repercussions. 

Then add this fact: the Supreme Court also issued a similar order in the Trahan appeal, ordering those parties to comply with the order just issued in Thompson, and expressing the intention that the parties work together on their briefs and be prepared to argue their cases on the same day. One thing is for sure, some day this June there are going to be a lot of lawyers crammed into the Supreme Court courtroom. 

In any event, Ramsay Law Firm is going back to the Minnesota Supreme Court, again challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota's test refusal law. But before we go, note one additional, interesting wrinkle: oral arguments on Trahan and Thompson will be held right around the same time that the United States Supreme Court issues its decision in Bernard v. Minnesota -- however these cases play out, the results are going to have a significant impact on the future of Minnesota's DWI laws. 

Using Due Process To "Set Right What Once Went Wrong"

In the early 90's I was a fan of the show "Quantum Leap." The premise of the show was pretty straight forward: Dr. Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula) was bouncing around through time as a result of a science experiment gone wrong. His mind would end up in someone else's body, and after this "quantum leap" he'd have a relatively short amount of time to correct some historical mistake (maybe the person he "leap"ed into died in an avoidable accident, or was in a position to stop a major injustice and failed to act). His holographic fried Al (played by Dean Stockwell) would use the early-90's version of Google to figure out what "went wrong" and would then suggest the best way to "set it right." If Dr. Beckett successfully managed to fix whatever historical mistake he was facing, he would then leap into another individual at another point in time, and the process would start over again.

I loved that show.

Today, a modern and less science-y version of Quantum Leap is happening in courtrooms around our State. Instead of Dr. Beckett being asked by Al to "set right what once went wrong" we're now filling Al's shoes and asking various judges to correct historical mistakes -- and we're having a lot of success.

The historical mistake is Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law; our legislature's decision to make it a crime for individuals to refuse to submit to warrantless searches. As we've blogged about previously, we recently convinced the Minnesota Court of Appeals to find that this test refusal law is unconstitutional whenever law enforcement demand a blood or urine sample from drivers (and the United States Supreme Court will soon decide if it is unconstitutional with respect to breath tests).

But the vast majority of driver's don't refuse to submit to testing . . . . which raises the question "what can we do to help?" The answer is very straightforward, and is tied to this ongoing "historical mistake" that is a fundamental part of our DWI test refusal law. This is because almost every driver in Minnesota is told two radically out-of-date pieces of information by law enforcement after being arrested for DWI: (1) Minnesota law requires you to take a test, and (2) refusal to take a test is a crime.

Now, if you clicked the links I provided above (or you just trust me) you know that those statements are outright lies: the "crime" of test refusal is an unconstitutional one. Yet law enforcement continues to follow this unconstitutional law and continues to tell drivers that refusal to take a test is a crime! That's where the due process violation comes into play.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has "consistently noted its concern that law enforcement officials not mislead individuals with respect to their obligation to undergo blood alcohol testing." That's why our Courts are charged with suppressing any test results whenever police "threaten criminal charges that state was not authorized to impose, thereby violating the constitutional guarantee of due process."

It's a simple but powerful argument, and we've already convinced judges from around Minnesota to "set right what once went wrong" and throw out blood and urine test results that were obtained after our clients were told (incorrectly) that "refusal to take a test is a crime." 

Minnesota's test refusal law has been on the books for decades, and has faced numerous constitutional challenges since it was first drafted. Recently, our Courts have repeatedly issued orders finding the basis for that law unconstitutional. Now, we're traveling around the State, client by client, county by county, and convincing judges to suppress DWI test results that were the result of our legislature's mistake -- leaping from judge to judge, until the day comes where our appellate courts rule on this issue once and for all, permitting us to finally make the leap home (oh boy!).  


In the last 3 days judges suppressed 2 DWI blood tests; 1 under the IC law, another where cops just asked for consent...

Posted by Ramsay Law Firm, PLLC on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bernard Brief Bank: Adding Amicus Arguments II

In case you didn't already know, the United States Supreme Court is set to determine whether or not Minnesota's DWI laws are constitutional. The highest Court accepted review of three cases - here they are, with hyperlinks to the Supreme Court docket for each case:


Bernard v. Minnesota (14-1470): is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?


Birchfield v. North Dakota (14-1468): Is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?


Beylund v. North Dakota (14-1507): Is it constitutional for a state to claim that a driver "consented" to a warrantless search when that driver was threatened with the crime of refusal?



We'll be releasing the briefs filed in these cases over the course of the next week or so. Along with the three "merits" briefs we previously posted, five (not four) amicus briefs were filed. Locally, the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (MSCJ/MACDL) filed briefs. Nationally, they were joined by the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA), the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) the Downsize DC Foundation (DDCF), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Here are the last three amicus briefs: 

- Brief of Amicus Curiae National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)

- Brief of Amicus Curiae American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

-Brief of Amicus Curiae Downsize DC Foundation (DDCF) et al. 

Bernard Brief Bank: Adding Amicus Arguments

In case you didn't already know, the United States Supreme Court is set to determine whether or not Minnesota's DWI laws are constitutional. The highest Court accepted review of three cases - here they are, with hyperlinks to the Supreme Court docket for each case:

Bernard v. Minnesota (14-1470): is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?
Birchfield v. North Dakota (14-1468): Is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?
Beylund v. North Dakota (14-1507): Is it constitutional for a state to claim that a driver "consented" to a warrantless search when that driver was threatened with the crime of refusal?
We'll be releasing the briefs filed in these cases over the course of the next week or so. Along with the three "merits" briefs we previously posted, four amicus briefs were filed. Locally, the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (MSCJ/MACDL) filed an amicus brief. Nationally, they were joined by the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA), the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) the Downsize DC Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Here are the first two amicus briefs:
- Brief of Amicus Curiae Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL) and Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice (MSCJ)
- Brief of Amicus Curiae DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA) 
In the interests of full disclosure, Dan Koewler of Ramsay Law Firm authored the brief submitted by DUIDLA and is the Chairman of the Amicus Committee for MACDL. Charles Ramsay of Ramsay Law Firm is a member of the Amicus Committee for DUIDLA. Both Dan and Chuck are members of all three organizations. 

Bernard Brief Bank: Keeping You Updated

In case you didn't already know, the United States Supreme Court is set to determine whether or not Minnesota's DWI laws are constitutional. The highest Court accepted review of three cases - here they are, with hyperlinks to the Supreme Court docket for each case:

Bernard v. Minnesota (14-1470): is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?

Birchfield v. North Dakota (14-1468): Is it constitutional for a state to criminalize the act of refusing to submit to a warrantless DWI search?

Beylund v. North Dakota (14-1507): Is it constitutional for a state to claim that a driver "consented" to a warrantless search when that driver was threatened with the crime of refusal?







The briefs in support of the Appellants (Bernard, Birchfield, and Beylund) have already been filed, as have the briefs filed by several amicus curiae ("Friends of the Court," attorneys love using Latin phrases).

Respondents (the States of Minnesota and North Dakota) along with their fellow amici will be filing their briefs between March 15 and March 22.

We expect oral arguments to be held in Washington, D.C. sometime in April.

We expect a decision in June

And of course, there is one new question . . . what will be the impact of the recent passing of Justice Scalia on the cases scheduled for this term


We'll be releasing the briefs filed in these cases over the course of the next week or so. Along with the three "merits" briefs, four amicus briefs were filed. Locally, the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (MSCJ/MACDL) filed an amicus brief. Nationally, they were joined by the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA), the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) the Downsize DC Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (note that Dan Koewler was the author of the DUIDLA brief).

Here are the "merits" briefs:

Bernard v. Minnesota

Birchfield v. North Dakota

Beylund v. North Dakota

Check back often, we'll be posting the rest of the amicus briefs soon (along with some analysis)

It's Official: Bernard Does NOT Apply to Blood and Urine Tests

The dismantling of an unconstitutional statutory scheme is, evidently, a slow process.

As of Monday, we are one small step closer to constitutional fidelity. In its unpublished opinion in State v. Thach, the Minnesota Court of Appeals acknowledged that the search-incident-to-arrest exception does not apply to blood and urine tests:

In Trahan, this court held, based on the state’s concession, that Bernard does not apply to a blood test and that a warrantless blood test cannot be justified by the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine. Similarly, in Thompson, this court held that Bernard does not apply to a urine test and that a warrantless urine test cannot be justified by the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine. Collectively, Trahan and Thompson compel the conclusion that, in Thach’s case, the administration of a warrantless blood test or a warrantless urine test would not have been a valid search incident to his arrest.

This conclusion logically follows from the Court's rulings in Trahan and Thompson, so why blog about it?

Because every small step matters. In State v. Bernard, the Minnesota Supreme Court deliberately took no position on the application of its novel interpretation of the search-incident-to-arrest exception to 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.

The Court of Appeals' decision in Thach takes a position on the issue.

Because the state relies only on the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine, we must conclude that Thach had a fundamental right to refuse to submit to both chemical tests.

Even this small step is a step in the right direction.

What can we expect next from Minnesota appellate courts? I'd like to see the elimination of the "as applied" modifier in DWI test refusal cases. These constitutional principles apply to all warrantless blood and urine tests in the implied consent context. The test refusal statute is unconstitutional on its face.

TNT - Get A Handle On The Current Explosion In Constitutional DWI Challenges in Minnesota

The constitutionality of Minnesota's DWI laws have never been more uncertain. The United States Supreme Court is going to decide if Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law is unconstitutional. The Minnesota Court of Appeals already ruled that you cannot charge a driver for refusal if they refuse a blood test or a urine test.

Some law enforcement agencies have stopped using blood and urine tests entirely; other counties have so few breath testing DataMaster DMTs that they don't have much of a choice but to demand urine or blood samples.

Sometimes law enforcement obtain a warrant before a blood or a urine test; other times they don't; in almost every case, they tell the driver they will be charged with the crime of refusal even when the officer knows full well that such a charge would be unconstitutional.

What's the current status of DWI law in Minnesota, besides "confusing?" Does it matter what test is offered by law enforcement, and is there a difference in defending a case where the driver submitted to a test versus refused to submit to a test? How do you raise these challenges in court (or try and convince a judge to put your case on hold until the Supreme Court provides Minnesota with some much needed guidance?)

We'll answer all these questions and more in our upcoming CLE Webcast (sponsored by the folks over at MinnCLE). We'll go live tomorrow, Tuesday, January 25, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. There will even be time allotted for answering questions.

If you're even thinking about handling a DWI case in 2016, this is the one CLE you can't afford to miss. Sign up by clicking on this link right here. (MinnCLE provides a discounted rate for those who are MSBA members, or those of you who have a Season Pass . . . which, if you had a Season Pass, you would already know).

Chuck Ramsay Interviewed By Minnesota Lawyer Regarding The Bernard Case

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court's decision to review DWI Test Refusal law, the nation's attention is being focused squarely on the state of Minnesota . . . and those attorneys who are closest to the fight. Minnesota Lawyer, the premiere legal publication for our state, interviewed Chuck Ramsay to get his opinion on what the possible impact will be for Minnesota now that the State v. Bernard case is going to be ruled upon by the highest court in America. 

Here's what Mr. Ramsay had to say (the full article is behind a pay wall, and is likely only accessible by attorneys). 

Defense attorney Chuck Ramsay agreed the potential impact is hard to overstate.

“It could be tremendous because, with a handful of exceptions, it would affect every single DWI case in Minnesota,” said Ramsay, who wrote an amicus brief when Bernard went before the Minnesota Supreme Court. “I can’t think of any other crime, except for the petty misdemeanor of speeding,  that affects so many citizens. I think this is unparalleled.”

Mr. Ramsay went on to add:

“The consensus in the defense community is that the U.S. Supreme Court took these cases to overturn them,” Ramsay said, referencing Bernard and the two companion cases out of North Dakota. “Because only a handful of states criminalize a driver’s refusal to submit to warrantless search, we don’t think it’s likely that the U.S. Supreme Court just wants to pat Minnesota and North Dakota on the back and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job of upholding the United States Constitution!’”

We've been at the forefront of every legal challenge to Minnesota's Test Refusal law for almost a decade, and will continue to bring you all the relevant news and developments on this issue, from now until the Supreme Court issues their decision (likely in early June of 2016).

Until then, keep checking back regularly - when we're not providing breaking news, we'll still be providing legal commentary and opinion on what the future may hold -- and how to capitalize on future developments today. And if you've been charged with a recent DWI (even if you submitted to a test) the best thing you can do for yourself is to give us a call . . . sooner rather than later. 

Will The United States Supreme Court Review Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law?

Unless this is the first time you've ever visited our blog, you're undoubtedly aware that one of the hottest topic in the area of DWI law is Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal law, which effectively makes it a crime to refuse to submit to a warrantless search. You're probably also aware that under the current state of the law, it is unconstitutional to charge someone with test refusal if they refuse a blood test, but still constitutional if they refuse a breath test (guess which test is being offered most?).

The constitutionality of Minnesota's Test Refusal law is being presented to the United States Supreme Court in the case of State v. Bernard (and several other appeals from both Minnesota and North Dakota, which also has a test refusal law), and SCOTUS may tell us that they are accepting review as soon as this coming Monday

Here's the update: the highly prestigious SCOTUS Blog just listed the Bernard petition as one of their "petitions to watch." Here's what they had to say about the slew of test refusal petitions being presented to the Supreme Court:

Next, let’s kill thirteen birds with two (three?) stones. Up for consideration last Friday were a coven of cases all presenting the same question: whether, in the absence of a warrant, a state may make it a crime for someone to refuse to take a chemical test to detect the presence of alcohol in his blood. The two lead cases in the group – Bernard v. Minnesota14-1470, and Birchfield v. North Dakota14-1468 – challenge laws from Minnesota and North Dakota (respectively), which are among the thirteen states that make it a crime to refuse a test for blood-alcohol content. The petitioner inBernard, who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after he got his truck stuck in a river (although the officers likely had probable cause to believe he was intoxicated based solely on the fact that he’d been boating), was later charged with first-degree test refusal which, in Minnesota, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years’ imprisonment (!). Bernard argued that imposing criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a warrantless breath test violated the Fourth Amendment, but a divided Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, reasoning that a warrantless breath test would have been reasonable in Bernard’s case as “a search incident to [his] valid arrest.” Bernard claims (not without force) that this ruling is “shockingly wrong,” and “untethers the search-incident-to-arrest exception . . . from [its] rationale.” The petitioner in Birchfield failed a field sobriety test administered after he drove his car off the road, and similarly refused to submit to a chemical blood-alcohol test. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed Birchfield’s conviction on the grounds that first, attaching criminal penalties to test refusal in this context is, as a general matter, reasonable; and second, that the entitlement to drive may be conditioned on the driver’s “deemed agreement to consent to a chemical test.” The Birchfield petition asks the Court to grant review and consolidate it with Bernard. “Alternatively,” the petition continues, “the Court should grant review in Bernard and hold the petition in this case pending disposition of that matter.”

If you had any notion that this issue arises infrequently, there are ten other cases from Minnesota or North Dakota lined up that raise the same issue, which we list here to demonstrate the diversity of surnames in the Upper Midwest: Manska v. Minnesota14-9861Isaacson v. Minnesota15-5315;Mawolo v. Minnesota15-5307Washburn v. North Dakota14-1469Baxter v. North Dakota15-243Beylund v. North Dakota14-1506Harns v. North Dakota14-1512Beylund v. Levi14-1507;Culver v. Levi14-1508; and Wojahn v. Levi15-129. From slightly to the south and east comesGaede v. Illinois14-10423, which presents a similar issue. Illinois does not criminalize a person’s refusal to submit to a chemical test, but evidence of refusal is admissible “in any civil or criminal action or proceeding arising out of the acts alleged to have been committed while the person is under the influence.”

Update: Minnesota Supreme Court Accepts Review Of Minnesota DWI Test Refusal Law

We've got more developments to report regarding whether or not Minnesota's DWI Test refusal law is constitutional. In a not-so-surprising turn of events, the Minnesota Supreme Court just granted review of the Trahan case, and set a briefing schedule for the parties. You can follow the boring progress of the case here

If you don't recall, Trahan was the case where the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that our DWI test refusal law is unconstitutional. To be more specific, the test refusal law is unconstitutional when law enforcement try to get a blood sample - Trahan deals strictly with blood tests, while the previously-issued Bernard case decided that you can charge someone with refusal if they refuse a breath test.

Now, the Minnesota Supreme Court will decide if the refusal law can withstand constitutional scrutiny when blood tests are at stake.  We'll just add in conclusion that the unintentional timing of this is interesting - just this week the Hawaii Supreme Court reached the opposite conclusion that Minnesota reached in Bernard, and found that their own test refusal law was unconstitutionally coercive. 

To say that Minnesota's DWI law is unsettled at this point would be a massive understatement. As always, keep checking back here, and we'll keep you posted as to the latest developments. 

The Constitution Won!

Apologies for the terrible title, but we've got big news from waaaaaaay down south. The Hawaii Supreme Court just issued a decision that directly contradicts the recent Minnesota decisions in State v Bernard and State v. Brooks. If you recall, the Minnesota Bernard decision concluded that Minnesota's DWI test refusal law is constitutional, with the additional conclusion that DWI breath tests are not even protected by the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. That case is currently sitting with the United States Supreme Court. Previously, the Brooks decision concluded that it is not coercive to tell a driver that they are required by law to submit to a DWI test - even after being threatened with a crime, drivers are still deemed to have "freely and voluntarily consented" to testing in Minnesota. 

That's the old news; here's the new news. In Hawaii, the recently-issued Won case stands for the exact opposite - there, the Hawaii Supreme Court concluded that DWI breath tests are protected by the Constitution, and that it is unconstitutionally coercive to make it a crime to refuse to submit to a breath test. The concurring opinion wanted to go even farther, and strike down the entire refusal law as being patently unconstitutional

Two states, both with a DWI test refusal law on the books. One of those states found the law constitutional, the other found it applied unconstitutional pressure on drivers . . . and it took Hawaii's highest court all of one paragraph to reject pages and pages of analysis performed by Minnesota's highest court. 

The Hawaii decision is a gem of logic and legal reasoning, but you don't have to take our word for it, you can read it yourself. 

So, which state got it right? That's the big question, and it's a question that can only be answered by the United States Supreme Court. DWI law has never been more unsettled than it is right now - stay tuned. 

Supreme Court to Discuss Bernard Appeal on December 4

We've got a small update to provide regarding the ongoing state of the law regarding Minnesota's Test Refusal Law. Mark December 4, 2015 on your calendars - the day that the United States Supreme Court is going to hold a conference on several Minnesota appeals. 

Currently, there are several Minnesota cases that are asking the United States Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law. The one most people are familiar is the Bernard case - where the Minnesota Supreme Court found that breath tests were not protected by the warrant requirement because they were "searches incident to arrest." Bernard is now set for conference on December 4. 

We discussed two other petitions for review that were filed around the same time as Bernard - the Issacson and Manska cases (both are also test refusal cases). Both of these cases are also set for December 4.

What does this mean? It means that we'll likely know if SCOTUS intends to accept review of Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law some time before Christmas. 

Those Who CAN Do, Also Teach

Good attorneys - the ones who want to do more than take your money, the ones that actually want to (and enjoy) fighting for you, are constantly learning the latest and greatest legal tactics to help their clients win. Now, nobody has unlimited time to learn, so good attorneys will be very picky when it comes to who they go to for their continuing education.

You know the old saying, "those who can't do, teach?"  (sometimes followed by, "and those who can't teach, teach gym"). Well, I think it's a stupid saying, regardless of the context, but it's certainly stupid when it comes to continuing legal education. The best and brightest attorneys are at the top of their game (putting their clients in just as favorable position), and it is those attorneys that are often called upon to share their hard-won knowledge and expertise with other attorneys.

The attorneys at Ramsay Law Firm are always working to improve themselves through education . . . and sometimes that means stepping up and doing the educating. We recently announced that our own Charles Ramsay joined the faculty of the prestigious, nationwide National College for DUI Defense. This weekend, instead of spending time with his family, he'll be teaching the best DWI defense attorneys from around the country on how to successfully attack the science behind breath testing

After this weekend, Chuck will be back in Minnesota, continuing to use what he taught to attack the breath tests in our client's cases. And these attacks are picking up some serious steam - we've uncovered even more information calling Minnesota's breath testing scheme into serious question. Those challenges are going to give us the edge for all of our clients - and in DWI defense, it can be the edge needed to get a successful resolution to the case.

Does your attorney teach for the National College of DUI Defense? Wouldn't you rather that he or she did?

The Technicalities (and Presumptions) of DWI: Part II

We previously discussed one of the most common misconceptions held by people who were arrested for driving while impaired - the future client who calls our office and feels obligated to keep reminding us that they "know" that they are "technically guilty of DWI" but . . . but . . . but. We debunked the myth of "technically guilty" drivers in that prior blog, and today we're going to talk about the other common misconception, namely, that the only way to "beat" a DWI is by taking advantage of some once-in-a-lifetime "technicality."

I shudder whenever a future client talks about "technicalities" because it shows a serious misunderstanding of what our constitutional rights really stand for. When someone says, "I want to know if it is possible to get off on a technicality" I secretly cringe, before trying to explain that what they meant to say is "did the government do its duty to uphold my constitutional rights?" 

That's not just mincing words - it's the cornerstone of our free, democratic society. Now, there are always scientific challenges to raise in DWI cases (the validity, accuracy, and reliability of the breath test, for example) and there are also specific challenges to the facts of many cases (would a jury agree that the person in actual physical control of the vehicle, or that the field sobriety tests were properly conducted) but many of the best defenses are constitutional challenges ("technicalities" that are anything but).

The Constitution affects DWI investigations more so than almost any other crime. You've got the initial seizure of the individual, which implicates the Fourth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment right to remain silent comes into play regularly (and often earlier in the encounter than most people think). You've got a constitutional right to counsel before you even submit to a blood, breath, or urine test, and a due process right to obtain an independent test afterwards. The test itself is a search protected by the Fourth Amendment warrant clause (a hotly contested topic to this day), and this is just scratching the surface of the dozens of constitutional challenges that have successfully been used to get DWI cases thrown out of court. 

When a law enforcement agent stops a driver without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, throwing out the case isn't due to a "technicality," it's a duty - our judges have a duty to protect the public from overzealous law enforcement agents - even if the driver was unequivocally intoxicated. When the government crime lab uses a fleet of breath test instruments that are unscientifically calibrated, improperly maintained, and are used to report grossly inaccurate and misleading results, suppressing those test results on Due Process grounds is not a "technicality," it's nothing more (or less) than a judge doing his or her duty to act as constitutional gatekeepers, each responsible for screening out blatantly unfair evidence. 

The "technicalities" of DWI defense don't arise once in a blue moon - they arise in almost every single case. It's probably once or twice a year that we come across a case where there is no way to raise a constitutional challenge to some aspect of a DWI case; 99% of the time, those challenges are plain to see, aching to be litigated, and able to be won. 

You are not "technically" guilty of DWI unless you plead guilty or lose your case at trial; and your attorney's job is to zealously attack every constitutional violation in your case to suppress illegally obtained evidence. That's not "winning on a technicality" that's just the benefit of living in a free, democratic society.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have died overseas defending our constitutional freedoms, and it would be absurd to fight with any less conviction when those freedoms are in need of defense at home


Following the Future: Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law's own Robert Zimmerman may have said it best when he noticed that "The Times, They Are A Changin'" It looks like the odds of the United States Supreme Court taking a careful look at Minnesota's decision to criminalize the act of DWI test refusal are going up by the day. We may soon see Minnesota's DWI test refusal law thrown out by the Supreme Court. 

Here's why: Earlier this year the Minnesota Supreme Court -- in a 4-3 decision -- decided that Minnesota's DWI test refusal law was constitutional, in the case of State v. Bernard. Bernard's attorneys promptly filed for further review by the United States Supreme Court, the first step along the road towards convincing the highest court in the land to find Minnesota's DWI law unconstitutional (which we've been arguing for a very long time). 

No action has been taken on Bernard's petition yet (the justices will review it in a conference within the next couple weeks). And everyone knows that the United States Supreme Court accepts very few cases for review (although there is a steady trend of the Court accepting more and more petitions). So the question is, "what are the odds that the Court will grant review of the Bernard decision?"

We recently uncovered a clue regarding this all-important question. Two DWI test refusal petitions to the Supreme Court, filed by pro se defendants (meaning they are representing themselves, never the best idea) were reviewed by the Court and led to an order for "Briefs in Opposition." This is a rare step, and the Court will not typically accept review of a case unless they have first ordered Briefs in Opposition.

The take away? At an absolute bare minimum, it means that there are several justices on the Supreme Court who have the issue of DWI test refusal on their radar, and are interested in reviewing the case. Otherwise, those two pro se petitions would have simply been denied. Instead, we've got some additional insight, and more reason to be optimistic that the Supreme Court will step in to reverse Minnesota's DWI laws in an even more dramatic fashion than they did back in 2013 in the Missouri v. McNeely decision. 

If the Supreme Court orders the State of Minnesota to file a Brief in Opposition to the Bernard petition, how will they respond? Will the State try to convince the Court not to accept review out of fear of how the Supreme Court will rule . . . or will they admit that the question is, at the very least, important enough to be presented and argued to the highest court in the land? I don't know the answer, my friend . . . as of right now, it's just blowing in the wind


UPDATE: For those who are really curious, here are the two decisions that spurred the Supreme Court to order Briefs in Opposition: 

State v. Issacson (MN decision) (SCOTUS docket)

State v. Manska (MN decision) (SCOTUS docket)

Separating the Men from the Boys

Let’s separate the men from the boys. And the women from the girls, ahem.

What really sets Ramsay Law Firm apart from other criminal defense firms?


Only an attorney who’s spent time in the lab, who’s worked with the testing instruments, and who is familiar with testing processes and protocols can explain to a jury, in layman’s terms, how scientific evidence was generated, and what the test results really show.

As you read this, our fearless leader, Attorney Charles “Chuck” Ramsay, is in a state-of-the-art forensic lab in Chicago, analyzing blood, urine, hair, saliva, and other biological samples for drugs.

Chuck is logging three full days at Axion Analytical Labs:

  • Day 1: Instrumental Analysis

Qualitative and quantitative instrumental analysis (understanding testing devices and processes, and the reliability and accuracy of test results);

  • Day 2: Pharmacology (how drugs affect living organisms)

Pharmacokinetics (the study of the time course of drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion); and

  • Day 3: Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics (the effects of drugs on behavior, and the mechanism of their action).

Here at Ramsay Law Firm, we understand that:

If you want to make sure that justice happens in the courtroom, you have to understand the science at least as well as the scientists presenting it.
                                                                         - Justin J. McShane, JD, F-AIC 

If there is a scientific issue in a case, we’ll find it.

When other attorneys need help with science, they call us.

We have specialized scientific training, and we know how to use science to help our clients win in court.

Can your attorney say that?


Your Voluntary Consent Is Required

For DWI suspects in Minnesota, the right to consult with counsel has no bearing on the voluntariness of their “consent” to give blood, breath, or urine for testing.

Drivers have a constitutional right to refuse to consent to a warrantless search, and a statutory right to refuse to permit a chemical test, but lawyers can't advise drivers to exercise these rights, because doing so is a crime, for the client and the lawyer.

Under Minnesota law: Every person who commits or attempts to commit, conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of any act declared in [Minnesota Chapter 169A - Driving While Impaired] to be an offense, whether individually or in connection with one or more other persons or as a principle, agent, or accessory, is guilty of that offense, and every person who falsely, fraudulently, forcefully, or willfully induces, causes, coerces, requires, permits, or directs another to violate any provision of this chapter is likewise guilty of that offense.

Minn. Stat. § 169A.78.

It gets worse (or better, if you’re a prosecutor). When a Minnesota DWI suspect tells the police:

"There is no way I will voluntarily consent to this test without a warrant! I know my rights!"

her attorney is ethically bound to advise her to submit to the warrantless search against her will. Any other advice would be a violation of Rule 1.2(d) of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct:

“A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal ... .” 

Sorry drivers, in Minnesota, your voluntary consent is required.

Beating DWIs with Science

Winning cases for our clients is nothing new, but this week we won a few based on good ol’ science. Unlike previous wins based on constitutional issues, this week we prevailed twice by exposing law enforcement errors that rendered scientific test results unreliable. Science requires precision, and our training gives us an edge when it comes to spotting irregularities in DWI test procedures.

DWI Breath Test Refusal. We’ve been at the forefront of the constitutional push-back against the crime of test refusal for years. District court judges know coercion when they see it, and we make sure they understand the Catch-22 our clients face: submit to a warrantless search or commit the crime of refusal. (In Minnesota, refusal to take a test is a gross misdemeanor crime plus automatic license revocation for at least one year.) The majority opinion in State v. Bernard has left us all—attorneys and judges—with relatively tied hands until the United States Supreme Court takes a look at the issue. (We’ll let you know when that happens.) Fortunately for our clients, when one door gets blocked, we find another way out.

This week we beat a DWI test refusal charge by using our expertise in Minnesota’s breath testing protocol. Dan and I are both certified, by the device manufacturer, as operators and supervisors of the DataMaster DMT breath testing device (“DMT”). I am also a certified Intoxilyzer 5000 (PBT) operator, and a graduate of the prestigious Borkenstein Institute (open to government employees only).

We beat the refusal charge this week because we understand the variables involved in DMT breath testing. Under current law, simply providing a breath sample isn’t enough; drivers have to provide two samples, and the DMT has to deem them both “sufficient.” Sometimes a driver simply can’t blow long enough and hard enough to meet the machine’s requirements. That counts as test refusal.

There are other reasons the machine won’t accept a driver’s breath sample. One example is when the DMT detects “mouth alcohol,” which is often associated with gastric reflux (“GERD”) (mouth alcohol artificially inflates test results because it shows up on the test, but it has no relation to impairment because mouth alcohol has not been absorbed into the blood).  When the DMT detects a declining alcohol concentration during the collection of the breath sample (indicative of the presence of mouth alcohol) it reports “INVALID SAMPLE.” (See page 105 of the Minnesota DMT Operator Manual.)

In the refusal case we beat this week, our client blew into the DMT breath test machine, and the machine reported “INVALID SAMPLE.” The DMT operator confused this message with “DEFICIENT SAMPLE” – a common mistake among officer operators – and charged our client with the crime of test refusal (in addition to the DWI charge). Due to a previous qualified driving incident, our client was charged with second degree DWI, and the State forfeited his truck.

When our client came to us, he had no license, no truck, and was facing prison time. We challenged all of it: the license revocation, the criminal charges, and the forfeiture. It didn’t happen overnight, but we’re happy to report that the State returned his forfeited truck, and finally, this week, we got our client his driver’s license back, and the State dismissed the DWI and test refusal charges in exchange for a plea to careless driving.

In this case, our extensive breath testing training was crucial to our success. In DWI law, science is critical, and we’ve got the knowledge necessary to spot and expose errors that help us win our clients' cases.

DWI Urine Test. We’ve successfully challenged urine testing in Minnesota for years. Minnesota is one of the few states that use first-void urine alcohol testing (F-VUAT). Despite the State’s lax standards for urine sample collection, we still find case-changing mistakes in some of our clients’ cases.

When we say lax standards, we’re not kidding. There is only one administrative rule for urine testing: “Any person may administer a urine test.”  Minnesota statutes provide no requirements at all. Fortunately, our courts recognize the need for at least some minimum scientific safeguards to ensure the reliability of urine test results.

For example, urine testing kits contain a visible, white powder preservative that inhibits fermentation. Without the preservative, glucose in the urine can ferment. Days, or even weeks, can pass between collection and testing of a sample. Fermentation increases the amount of alcohol in the sample, which leads to artificially high, inaccurate test results.

In the urine case we beat this week, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab reported our client’s alcohol concentration at over .20. We reviewed the video and audio recordings of our client’s encounter with the police, and we scoured the police and lab reports. In one report the arresting officer detailed the lack of cooperation shown by our client. Deep within that narrative, the officer noted that at one point our client filled and then completely dumped out the urine collection cup before refilling it. Bingo. The officer was too caught up in recording our client’s attitude to realize that his note cast doubt on the reliability of the test results. When our client dumped out the urine, the preservative, presumably, went with it. We confronted the State with science, and the State agreed to flush the test, and dismiss the case without a hearing.

Perhaps you’re thinking,  “Yeah, but can I beat my DWI case?”

You’re not alone; most people—even other DWI attorneys—see a number higher than .08 and they give up.

We get it. The double whammy of implied consent and DWI proceedings is overwhelming. It’s easy to get discouraged.

But, as Wayne Gretzky says, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

We take every shot.

We know the science, and we use it to help drivers like you.

For a chance to beat your DWI, call us now.

"Consent" in the Wake of State v. Brooks

Right now in Minnesota, courts' interpretation of DWI law is all over the map – the law is uncertain, with more gray areas and questions than black-and-white answers.

Is "consent" to search relevant in the DWI context in Minnesota?

Is actual consent possible when "consent" is implied by law?

Do drivers have a "right" to refuse a test when exercising that "right" is a crime (test refusal)?

Does the Fourth Amendment even apply to DWI searches in Minnesota?

Currently, once a driver has been arrested for DWI in Minnesota there are only two possible outcomes: submit to a warrantless search (blood, breath, or urine), or get charged with a crime for refusing to submit. There doesn't seem to be much consent involved. And this appears to apply not only to drivers who have consumed alcohol; the same take-the-test-or-break-the-law "choice" must also be made by drivers who are simply driving while taking medication as prescribed

We weren’t kidding when we said there are more questions than answers. We depend on judges to come up with the answers, but we can certainly pinpoint the source of all the questions and confusion: the legal fiction that our Implied Consent Law (which governs license revocations) and DWI law (which puts drivers in jail) are separate from each other.

The Minnesota legislature has decided—under the Implied Consent Law—that in exchange for their driving privileges, all drivers arrested for DWI impliedly “consent” to submit to a warrantless search (chemical test of blood, breath, or urine). If a driver refuses to take a test, or if the driver takes and "fails" the test (.08 or higher), the State takes away the driver's license.

The legislature has also decided—under the DWI statute—that driving with an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is a criminal offense punishable by jail time.

The problem is that the legislature “crossed the streams” of the DWI and Implied Consent laws when it made it a crime, under the DWI law, to refuse to take a test under the Implied Consent Law. Together, the laws make it illegal for an arrested individual to refuse to submit to a warrantless search for criminal evidence.

This is a classic Catch-22 for the driver. By claiming the laws are still separate, the state is able to use a driver’s implied consent to take a chemical test (in exchange for a driver’s license) simultaneously as irrevocable "consent" to a warrantless search for criminal evidence.

Now, we aren't judges, but in our opinion this seems unconstitutional, for several reasons. First and foremost among them being the fact that “consent,” by definition, is permission freely and voluntarily given. Permission can always be withdrawn. If permission can’t be withdrawn (without incurring criminal penalty), it’s not voluntary, and therefore, it's not consent. 

It wasn't that long ago that Minnesota judges agreed with us:

“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[,]” Prideaux v. Minnesota, 1976, and "[a]n officer has a right to ask to search and an individual has a right to say no.” State v. George, 1997.

However, since 2013, in Missouri v. McNeelywhen the United States Supreme Court clarified that the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement does indeed apply to DWI tests (again, blood, breath, and urine), Minnesota courts have issued a series of contradictory decisions – and there doesn't appear to be any end in sight.

For instance, in State v. Brooks (2013), the Minnesota Supreme Court noted that “[t]he Minnesota Legislature has given those who drive on Minnesota roads a right to refuse the chemical test[,]” and “by reading the implied consent advisory police made clear to [the driver] that he had a choice of whether to submit to testing.” 

But this analysis depends on the legal fiction that the implied consent and DWI laws are separate. The statutory reality is that under the DWI statute, “[i]t is a crime for any person to refuse to submit to a chemical test of the person's blood, breath, or urine under [the Implied Consent Law]," even though the Implied Consent Law says that “[i]f a person refuses to permit a test, then a test must not be given.”

Can a single act, such as test refusal, be both a right and a crime at the same time?


Wanna know our answer?


DWI suspects have the same constitutional rights as everyone else.

1. Collection and chemical testing of blood, breath, and urine are searches under the Fourth Amendment that require a warrant or consent; 

2. Submission to a chemical test required by law, in order to avoid committing a crime by refusing to submit, is not consent; and

3. It is unconstitutional to criminalize refusal to submit to a warrantless search.

But we aren't judges, and according to case law, it appears that consent just isn't relevant in a post-Brooks world.

There is hope on the horizon . . .  We expect to see new developments in this area from our federal courts in the near future. Stay tuned – it may be a while before the fog clears, but we’ll be here to help you navigate DWI law until it does. 

This is the third 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

Medication Contraindication: Driving in Minnesota

Medication Contraindication: Driving in Minnesota

Do you take prescription medication? Approximately 70% of Americans do.

If your medication is classified as Schedule I or Schedule IIAdderall, Ambien, Codeine, or Klonopin, for exampleevery time you get behind the wheel of a car, you are committing the crime of driving while impaired. If arrested, you will lose your driver’s license, and proving that you are taking medication as prescribed by your doctor won’t help you get it back.

For this you can thank the Minnesota Court of Appeals for its recent decision in Dornbusch v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety.

In its decision, the Dornbusch court freely acknowledged that classifying medicationsbecause of their potential for abuse—was never intended to thwart their prescribed use by drivers. 

Remember, we’re not talking about street drugs or hardcore narcotics here. It is against the law to drive in Minnesota if any amount of certain medications people take every dayRitalin, Xanax, Vicodin, to name just a few—is present in your body.

But the Dornbusch court nonetheless held that when any amount of a Schedule I or II medication is found in a chemical test—even when the driver was taking the medication as prescribeda judge’s hands are tied. If the state has revoked your driver’s license for suspected DWI, a valid prescription will do nothing to help you get your driver’s license back.

Let me guess; this is the point where you, and many readers, are thinking, “Well, it’s only a crime if I get arrested while driving, and even if I get pulled over, I won’t be arrested for DWI, so I don’t need to worry.”

Think again. Law enforcement officers need only a minor traffic infraction to justify pulling you over. Once you’ve been stopped, an officer’s hunch, your bloodshot eyes, and an inability to stand perfectly still while balancing on one leg is all it takes to arrest you for DWI.

Coming up next: a recent example from the Court of Appeals of just how easy it is to find yourself under arrest for DWI.


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.

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...

Going Federal On Implied Consent

There comes a time when it becomes clear that the persistent and systematic violation of a constitutional right is falling on deaf ears in state courts. Here in Minnesota, in case after case, the fundamental constitutional right to be protected from warrantless invasions of bodily integrity – your right to refuse to give your breath, blood, or urine when there is no search warrant -- is being flagrantly violated by police during DWI investigations, and the courts are doing nothing about it. When that time comes, as it certainly has, the only remaining option is going federal.

Today, on behalf of a client, we filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. We put together evidence of our state courts’ failure to uphold the Constitution, and we are asking the federal court to step in to protect our rights. Minnesota courts have left us with no other choice. Since January 2014, in the aftermath of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Brooks, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has decided at least 70 appeals from district court cases dealing specifically with the issue of consent in the context of DWI. In every single one of those 70+ cases, the court concluded that the driver freely and voluntarily consented to a custodial, warrantless search. In one case, Bathen v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, the Court of Appeals found that a driver “freely and voluntarily consented” to an in-custody, warrantless search after law enforcement sicced a police dog on him, and one officer punched him in the head while another officer threw punches below the waist.

In at least 24 cases, under an astounding array of factual scenarios, the Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s conclusion that a driver’s consent was free and voluntary. Far more alarming is the fact that in one year the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed district courts’ determinations that consent was coerced and was not free and voluntary in at least 43 cases. In 2014, district court judges found coercion almost twice as often as they found consent, and yet the Court of Appeals reversed every single district court judge who found that, under the totality of the circumstances, a driver was coerced into consenting. The situation is so dire that the Court of Appeals has taken to dismissing the lack of consent in the majority of cases by concluding that drivers are “consenting” to the execution of warrantless searches “as a matter of law.

The decision to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court is a significant one. The Minnesota Court of Appeals’ clear endorsement of an unconstitutional law calls for significant action. The time has come to call on the federal courts to end this injustice and reinstate the Fourth Amendment protections of the Constitution in Minnesota.

NOTE: We made the decision to edit this post slightly due to the use of some . . . particularly strong language, language that threatened to undermine the civil tone we work to maintain on a daily basis. We are known for being aggressive defense attorneys, but want to ensure that we are not needlessly slinging mud, especially when it is far more effective to rely upon the merits of our arguments. To anyone who was offended by the deleted language, we apologize.


Kansas Finds DWI Implied Consent Law Unconstitutional

In 2012, we released a blog detailing the ruling in a then-unremarkable case out of the State of Missouri - a little case captioned Missouri v. McNeely.

Since then, the McNeely case has gotten a little more press.

Today, America's heartland issued another decision that may have broad reaching consequences in the future. A Kansas Appellate Court just ruled that their DWI Implied Consent law is unconstitutional. Specifically, the case of State v. DeClerck concluded that the purportedly "implied consent to chemical testing given by drivers on our state's roads" is absolutely not the same thing as "consent under the Fourth Amendment."

The Court repeatedly said, in no uncertain terms, that statutes like the Implied Consent law can not and do not trump constitutional principles, like the right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. In the end, the State of Kansas concluded that you cannot demand that driver's give up their Constitutional rights just by getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

These same arguments are being raised in Minnesota, and will likely make their way to the United States Supreme Court in the same way that McNeely did. But until that happens, we'll continue to fight this issue out case by case, judge by judge, county by county.

Minnesota Court of Appeals Discusses Consent in a Post Brooks World

Yesterday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued its first decision in the wake of State v. Brooks. It was the case of State v. Drum, and you can read it here.

This latest decision is "unpublished" meaning the decision does not bind other judges or other cases -  in a sense, the decision only really matters to Mr. Drum himself. But in another sense, it proves a chilling reminder of just how far down the rabbit hole Minnesota has gone with respect to how our courts define the word "consent."

The Drum decision attempts to clarify the decision in Brooks, and states that "as a matter of law" there is nothing coercive about telling someone that if they don't "freely and voluntarily consent" to a search they will be committing a new crime, right there, in front of a police officer. Law enforcement agents obtained incriminating evidence against Drum, evidence that cannot be obtained without a warrant, by "convincing" him to waive his constitutional right to that warrant . . . and they did it by telling him he'd be committing a brand new crime if he didn't hurry up and waive his rights. Some members of the Court of Appeals have interpreted this type of situation to constitute "free and voluntary" consent as a matter of law.

What's particularly troubling is that in this particular case, the government attorney actually conceded (admitted) that it was not arguing that Mr. Drum consented - the government basically told the Court during oral arguments that there was no consent in this case. Despite this concession, the Court still found that Drum "freely and voluntarily" consented.

Shortly after the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the rule that DWI tests do, in fact, require warrants, we speculated about the changes Minnesota would have to make to our own DWI laws to make sure that drivers were not being coerced into "consenting" to warrantless searches. Back then, we had no idea that Minnesota judges would actually consider threats to charge people with new crimes as non-coercive. While contrary to standard logic and a lot of prior case law, this approach does have the benefit of not having to amend any laws to conform with the Constitution.

But if you read the Drum decision, pay close attention to the last couple of paragraphs, where the Court of Appeals provided a . . . friendly reminder . . . to the attorney to keep things civil. It appears that the attorney that argued the Drum case was fairly frank in his opinions regarding the merits of the Brooks decision, to a degree that alarmed the Court of Appeals. Whether he went too far or not is not for us to say, but we already know that other judges also feel the exact same way, and have also expressed some fairly frank opinions regarding the Brooks decision.

Minnesota is turning into a bubbling pot, just short of a rolling boil, as more and more drivers "consent" to give up their Constitutional rights under the dual threat of being told they are "required by law" to give up their rights and that if they don't give up their rights, they're committing a brand new crime.

Right here, right now, both myself and Mr. Ramsay have no intention of holding back in our attacks against these "consensual" tests. When something is so contrary to common sense, so contrary to decades of prior United States Supreme Court cases, and so contrary to our client's interests, it would be impossible to sleep at night without knowing that we put 100% of our effort, experience, and enthusiasm into attacking these warrantless searches from every angle.

This isn't just about drunk drivers - not anymore. It's about government agents handcuffing, arresting, and taking Minnesotans to jail, then telling them that they are required by law to waive a constitutional right, and then telling them that if they don't waive that right they are committing a crime . . . and then, months later, being told that they "freely and voluntarily" waived that constitutional right like good citizens. There is still ample room to challenge this type of Orwellian conduct; there has to be, because the alternative would leave us living in a world that no free man or woman would want to be a part of. Every Minnesotan - even those who never touch a drop of alcohol - is affected by what is going on in our courts right now, and every Minnesotan needs good defense attorneys to use every means at their disposal to fight against this type of government conduct.


Three More Coerced DWI Breath Tests Suppressed

Last week, we received three orders suppressing the breath test results in three of our client's DWI cases. These suppression orders are a growing trend in Minnesota, as more and more judges are being asked to determine whether or not Minnesota drivers are actually "freely and voluntarily" consenting to DWI testing . . . or if they are being coerced.

When a judge suppresses DWI test results, due to a violation of an individual's constitutional rights, the evidence cannot be presented to a jury or cannot be used to support a revocation of that person's driver's license. Often (but not always) the entire DWI case hinges on the test results, and suppression of those results will result in winning the case.


Another Minnesota Judge Concludes DWI Breath Test Was Coerced

If you're a regular reader of our blog, you know that we previously discussed the role of judges in our criminal justice system. Sometimes, this role entails suppressing evidence and dismissing DWI charges because the State violated a defendant's constitutional rights.

Prosecutors around the state are now tasked with proving that every blood, breath and urine test was taken with the "free and voluntary consent" of the driver. If those prosecutors cannot convince a judge that the driver truly consented - if the judge instead finds that the driver was coerced - the test results are inadmissible in court.

Today we were provided with another order suppressing DWI breath test results because the driver was coerced. This is another example of a judge suppressing the results of a DWI test after the Minnesota Supreme Court issued the Brooks decision (notably, Brooks is a decision that will likely be appealed to the United States Supreme Court).

We discussed the implications of the Brooks decision when it was released, noting the questions that the Minnesota Supreme Court left unanswered. One question was "what happens if a driver is told he is required to submit to a test, but never has the chance to speak to an attorney?" In this most recent suppression order, the court concluded that this driver was coerced. If you've been charged with a DWI, did you feel like you had no choice but to submit to testing? Like you were being coerced into agreeing to submit to a test?

You can read the full order here.

Minnesota Judge Concludes DWI Test Was Coerced

MN DWI Gladiator Trial By CombatApplying the protections of the Constitution to our citizens is not just the role of our Courts; legislators, law enforcement agents and prosecutors all have a duty to uphold the Constitution. However, our criminal justice system is an adversarial one; while everyone has a duty to uphold the Constitution, the fact of the matter is that every criminal case is a pitched battle between the State (represented by the police and prosecutors) and a defendant (hopefully one represented by a zealous defense attorney). In a real sense, a criminal case is set up a lot like the old method of trial by combat; under our adversarial system, the parties duke it out, and the side that argues the best case has the best opportunity to prevail.

Why the history lesson? It's because the adversarial system runs the risk of promoting a "win at all cost" attitude by the State, where the Constitution becomes an mere impediment to victory that must be overcome, instead of a crucial list of fundamental rights and must be upheld.

Which is a long winded way of bringing us around to the role of the Courts: independent judges who are neutral referees in the trial by combat that is a criminal case. One of the primary roles of a judge is to determine if a defendant's Constitutional rights were violated by overzealous (or merely mistaken) police officers, or determine if a prosecutor is attempting to use evidence that was obtained unconstitutionally. Judges act as a brake on the adversarial system, a way to make sure that the respective parties aren't trampling the Constitution in their desire to win their case.

The battle over how the Constitution applies to DWI cases has taken a new tone recently, based on a couple of Supreme Court cases. First, in Missouri v. McNeely, the United States Supreme Court reinforced the long-standing rule that DWI tests are, in fact, searches, and therefore require law enforcement to obtain warrants. Then, in State v. Brooks, the Minnesota Supreme Court reinforced the equally long-standing rule that police don't need to obtain a warrant if the person they wish to search freely and voluntarily consents to waive their right to a warrant.

We're now in a position where the admissibility of almost every DWI test result hinges on whether or not the driver freely and voluntarily consented to a warrantless search, or if they took the test due to coercion (side note: other exceptions besides "consent" sometimes apply, and of course police can always get a valid warrant and avoid the whole argument, but few police actually obtain warrants and most prosecutors are strictly arguing for the "consent" exception).

Recently, a Minnesota judge stepped into the fray and ruled that  DWI test was inadmissible, ruling that because the driver was coerced into submitting to the test, the results of that search/test were inadmissible. Whether a driver was coerced is a very fact-specific inquiry, and requires a truly well-seasoned attorney to effectively use as a defense.

This is yet another well written order, suppressing evidence in a DWI case after the Brooks decision, and is definitely worth reading. You can click here to download a copy for yourself. Anyone who intends to fully defend against a DWI charge should probably read it twice.

Minnesota Judges Continue to Find DWI Test Refusal Law Unconstitutional

We've been fighting against Minnesota's DWI test refusal law for over five years. Today, we were provided with an order that demonstrates that this fight is still raging across Minnesota Courts, and that judges are continuing to rule in favor of the defense.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first judicial order to come down after theState v. Brooks decision that finds that the crime of test refusal is unconstitutional.

You can read the order here, by clicking this link. The judge in this case not only does an excellent job of boiling the ruling down to one carefully crafted paragraph, but then goes on to expand on that one simple paragraph with several pages of detailed analysis.

Analyzing the Minnesota Supreme Court Decision in Brooks

We pride ourselves on bringing our readers up-to-date, relevant, and educational information regarding Minnesota's DWI laws, along with our experienced analysis.

But, first and foremost, our firm exists to defend drivers charged with DWI. We can't blog every day, on every topic, because our attorneys spend almost every day in court, representing our clients. And, in the end, that's what drove us to become defense attorney's - the desire to help people who ran afoul of Minnesota's convoluted DWI scheme and got arrested for DWI.

Other attorneys blog too - even the really busy ones. And today we'd like to highlight a post by Carol Weissenborn, over at the Minnesota Supreme Court Criminal Blog. Ms. Weissenborn is not only a defense attorney, but also a law professor, and yet she still finds time to post blogs regarding developments at the Minnesota Supreme Court.

She recently published what might be the best analysis of the Brooks decision we've ever seen. You'll want to click that link and read the whole article, but here's an excerpt from the introduction to whet your appetite:

Now I remember why my expectations are low in consent-to-search cases.  They end in opinions like the one we got in Brooks.  The Court performed a totality of the circumstances analysis.  Like many such analyses, it was substantively choppy and composed of parts that did not necessarily follow one from the other so that, if you shuffled the pieces and recombined them, you would wind up with an opinion that was not very different than the one with which you started . . . .  the Minnesota Supreme Court had the opportunity to reckon honestly with the nature of coercion in the implied-consent-to-search context but, whether from a failure of inclination or imagination, it did not do so.

Again, please check out the full article here. It's worth your time.

Our Own Charles Ramsay Appears on Channel 4 WCCO To Analyze the Brooks Decision

As one of the premiere Minnesota attorneys to practice DWI defense, our own Charles Ramsay is often called upon to provide insight and analysis when it comes to new developments in DWI law.

Yesterday was no exception, and Charles Ramsay appeared on Channel 4, WCCO to discuss the potential impact of the Minnesota Supreme Court's recent decision in the State v. Brooks case.

You can watch the video below, but one notable quote bears repeating: "[E]very case must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. It’s going to clog the courts. More people who have been arrested for DWI are going to fight because of this.”

Will the Minnesota Legislature step in and amend our current DWI laws to ensure that test results remain admissible as evidence? Time will tell.



Brooks Decision : Some Questions Answered Yet Some Puzzles Remain Unsolved

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued their decision in State v. Brooks. The majority concluded that, on the facts presented to the Court, Mr. Brooks freely and voluntarily consented to submit to warrantless searches and seizures of his blood and his urine. This decision answered some questions, but left some huge issues unresolved.

Questions Answered

That holding answered one question right off the bat, when it affirmed that DWI urine tests and DWI blood tests are undoubtedly searches that are due the full protection of the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (and are presumably also due that same protection under the similar protections provided by the Minnesota Constitution in Article I, Section 10).

The holding then answered another question, when it concluded that Minnesota's Implied Consent Law is not coercive as a matter of law. The Court said that just because the police are telling drivers they are "required" to submit to testing and that "refusal to submit to testing is a crime" they are not actually forcing drivers to say "yes" to these searches. In layman's terms, Brooks states that the police can tell someone that they are required by law to consent to a warrantless search, and then turn around and tell the court that they didn't bother getting a warrant because the person was nice enough to freely and voluntarily consent to the warrantless search . . .

Remaining Puzzles:

Brooks had some very unique facts. In his case, he exercised his right to contact an attorney (multiple times) and had plenty of experience dealing with law enforcement and being arrested for DWI. The Court took this into account when concluding that Brooks "freely and voluntarily" consented to these tests.

But not every DWI is handled that way. Instead, imagine that a driver tells the officer, "sure, I'll take a test. Just go get a warrant. No rush - I'll wait right here." It appears, under the logic of Brooks, that this driver is not only not refusing, but is also carefully exercising their constitutional right to withhold their consent.

Now, in this hypothetical, the officer may just say, "I'm not gonna get a warrant, I'm just going to charge you with refusal." Interestingly, post-Brooks, that refusal may not hold up in a court of law. That's because Minnesota law provides that drivers can, in fact, refuse to submit to testing if that refusal is "reasonable." A court could conclude that nothing is more reasonable than patiently waiting to be shown a search warrant, and throw out the refusal charge.

Justice Stras wrote a compelling concurrence that would have avoided all of this uncertainty, but his was the lone vote in opposition - five other justices agreed that Brooks consented to this warrantless search. However, Justice Stras' concurrence may actually provide future guidance in Minnesota, because the Brooks decision raised one final, currently unanswerable question: Will the United States Supreme Court accept review of this case, and undo Minnesota's new definition of what constitutes "consent" in the same way that the McNeely decision undid Minnesota's new definition of what constitutes "exigency?"

When it comes to the state of DWI law in Minnesota, we live in very, very interesting times.


Brooks Decision Released

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued the much anticipated decision in State v. Brooks, which deals with the admissibility of DWI blood, breath and urine test results in Minnesota. You can read the entire decision here.

For those of you anxious to just cut to the chase, without reading the entire decision, here's the Court's own summary of what the Brooks decision says:

When, based on the totality of the circumstances, appellant consented to the search, police did not need a warrant to search appellant’s blood or urine.


Now go ahead and read the whole decision, but don't forget to check back here soon - we'll be posting our interpretation and first impressions of the decision very shortly.


Breaking News: Minnesota Supreme Court to Issue Brooks Decision Tomorrow

Tomorrow, October 23, 2013, at 10:00 a.m., the Minnesota Supreme Court will issue the long awaited decision in the State v. Brooks case. This decision will be the Minnesota Supreme Court's first opportunity to rule on whether DWI blood breath and urine tests are admissible in Minnesota since the United State's Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely.

We'll be posting the decision here on our blog as soon as it is released. We'll follow up shortly thereafter with our first impressions. So be sure to check back here at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.


Everything You Need to Know About McNeely in Minnesota

If you've been charged with a DWI, or know somebody who has, there is one thing you need to know: DWI law in Minnesota is incredibly uncertain right now. Test results are being thrown out at unprecedented rates, good defense attorneys are getting charges reduced and cases dismissed, and everyone is waiting for further guidance from the highest court in the land. And it's all because of one case: Missouri v. McNeely.

We've blogged about McNeely a lot, but rather than force our new readers to dig through months of posts, we're putting them all right here, as a sort of McNeely CheatSheat. So grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and get ready to click on as many hyperlinks as you can handle.

Everything You Need to Know

Back in early 2012, before the United States Supreme Court even came into the picture, we highlighted the Missouri v. McNeely case and emphasized its importance. Fast forward nine months, where the U.S. Supreme Court decided to accept review of the McNeely case. We then blogged about oral arguments, and provided the public with all the relevant briefs.

After arguments concluded, we teased our readers a little bit, and then provided them with a rundown of the (then) current status of Minnesota's DWI refusal law, how consent worked in Minnesota, and how some Minnesota judges were already anticipating the impact of the McNeely case in Minnesota.

Then, the decision came down. Just as we predicted, the U.S. Supreme Court discarded the "single-factor exigency doctrine" and we immediately set out to educate the public. Along with appearances on local news outlets, we started explaining how McNeely would likely affect Minnesota law, including not only the impact the decision could have on DWI Test Refusals but also how the decision fundamentally altered how judges and prosecutors even viewed the crime of driving while impaired (that one includes a fantastic chart!)

Eventually, the battle lines were drawn, as judges around the State began issuing rulings regarding DWI tests. Some judges agreed with our interpretation, and suppressed unconstitutionally obtained test results. In response, prosecutors started refining their arguments, trying to minimize or outright ignore the impact of McNeely.

So the Minnesota Supreme Court stepped in, to try and settle some of the questions raised by McNeely by hearing the Minnesota case of State v. Brooks.

We're now waiting for guidance from the Minnesota Supreme Court. Some judges are taking the opportunity to express their creativity, but even those who are remaining silent are beginning to see that search warrants aren't as troublesome as the prosecutors have led them to believe.

In the end, Brooks may simply raise more questions than answers; but rest assured, we'll still be here fighting the good fight and litigating this issue. After all, we were one of the first firms in the State to start demanding search warrants in DWI cases, way back in 2007, and we've still got a lot of fight left in us.

WIll the United States Supreme Court Review Minnesota's Test Refusal Law?

As you are probably aware, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Brooks case. For newcomers, the Brooks case is the Minnesota Supreme Court's first chance to apply the holding in Missouri v. McNeely to a Minnesota DWI case. One question the Court is being asked to answer is, "are Minnesota driver's truly consenting to DWI searches when refusal to consent is treated as a separate crime?"

One fact we've kept relatively quiet is that we have a petition pending before the United States Supreme Court asking that exact same question. The highly prestigious SCOTUS Blog just listed our petition, in the case of Peppin v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, as one of their "petitions to watch."

We know better than most that the odds of the United States Supreme Court accepting review of a case is very, very slight. However, in the Peppin case we have a reason to be at least a little optimistic that the Supreme Court will grant review - they already ordered the State of Minnesota to file a response to our petition. Opposing parties rarely file responses to petitions, and the State did not originally file one to our petition; however, it is incredibly rare for the SCOTUS to accept review of a case unless a response has been filed, meaning that at least one Justice felt it was appropriate to order a response from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.

The Justices will decide the fate of the Peppin case at their September 30, 2013 Conference. If the petition is granted, it would be a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our firm to be able to argue a constitutional question of such incredible importance before the highest Court in the land. We sincerely hope that our petition is granted . . .but even if it's not, we still have every intention of arguing against Minnesota's practice of coercing consent from its citizens for each and every one of our clients.

Marching With the McNeely Gang: "Less Intrusive" Searches

Since the United States Supreme Court issued the McNeely decision, police officers and prosecutors alike have struggled to enforce Minnesota's DWI laws. Just as we predicted, SCOTUS used the McNeely case to destroy the previous belief that "DWI's don't require warrants." At its core, that was what McNeely was truly about - the fact that DWI searches (blood, urine and breath tests) don't have immunity from the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment.

That doesn't mean that all these test results are inadmissible as evidence. It just means that they are presumed to be inadmissible; the government can still try and prove that an exception to the warrant requirement permitted law enforcement to execute a warrantless search. That's the argument being raised in many cases - that drivers either consented to the search (meaning no warrant was necessary) or that it was a "search incident to arrest" (again, no warrant needed).

But some are going a step further, claiming that blood, urine and breath tests are not even "searches" and therefore, once again, do not require a warrant. Now, few prosecutors are bold enough to argue that blood tests are not searches, but many are nevertheless trying to claim that because breath tests (for example) are "less intrusive" than blood tests, they don't really count as a true search and therefore no warrant is ever needed.

It's an interesting argument . . . or it would be, if the law was not so straightforward regarding "less intrusive" searches. That's because prosecutors have raised this same argument before, and when they raised it, the lost. Repeatedly.

Look at the Kyllo case. In Kyllo, the SCOTUS rejected the government's argument that using thermal imaging equipment to search a person's home was not actually a "search" because it was far less intrusive then physically entering the home. SCOTUS didn't buy it; the Court announced that the definition of a “search” under the Fourth Amendment included “obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical ‘intrusion into a constitutionally protected area.'” So answer me this: how is a blood test a search but a breath test is not, when all a breath test amounts to is using technology to obtain alcohol concentration information that could not otherwise have been obtained without the physical intrusion of a needle? Or, asked another way, are our bodies entitled to any less protection and privacy than our homes?

Now look at the Katz case. In Katz, the SCOTUS rejected the government’s argument that an electronic listening device it had placed on the outside of a public telephone booth did not constitute a "search" because it “involved no physical penetration of the telephone booth.” Again, SCOTUS didn't buy it; the Court announced that, “the reach of [the Fourth] Amendment cannot turn upon the presence or absence of a physical intrusion into any given enclosure.” Now, answer this question: how is a blood test a search but a breath test is not, when the definition of a search can't be based upon whether or not it involves a physical intrusion (like a needle)? Or, asked another way, are public phone booths entitled to more protection than our very bodies?

These two cases - Kyllo and Katz - are all covered in every first year law student's Constitutional Law class. Citing these cases shouldn't be necessary - Skinner v. Ry. Labor Execs.’ Ass’n, and State v. Netland both make it crystal clear that breath tests are, in fact, protected searches - but if the prosecutor is grasping at straws, it is always best to be ready for it. Long story short, if a prosecutor says that they don't need warrants for breath test cases, ask 'em about Kyllo and Katz. I know that I always do.

Up next? We'll talk about another so-called exception to the warrant requirement, and why a blood, breath or urine test is anything but a "search incident to arrest."

Watch Brooks Oral Arguments

As we talked about yesterday, the Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Brooks case. This case is the Minnesota Supreme Court's first opportunity to apply theMcNeely decision to Minnesota's DWI laws, and is being closely watched by the defense bar, prosecutors, the Attorney General's office, and anyone who has been charge with a DWI in Minnesota.

The video may be a bit dry for the average reader, but anyone with a law degree (or just an interest in criminal law) should enjoy observing the back-and-forth between the Court and the attorneys arguing the case.

Note that the video starts about 30 seconds late, shortly after Jeff Sheridan's opening remarks.

TO WATCH THE VIDEO: click on the "Continue Reading" link below.


Continue Reading...

Suppressing Test Results Under McNeely: Winning the Battle But Not the War

I spend a lot of my time speaking with individuals who want to hire me, and our firm, as their attorneys. Lately, a lot of those conversations have involved explaining the impact of Missouri v. McNeely, what I intend to do to get their test results suppressed, and why that matters.

Answering the question, "why that matters" is what separates a great defense attorney from an average one - and when it comes to defending your liberty and your property, the difference between "great" and "average" is the difference between success and failure.


Because here's a secret an average defense attorney will never reveal - even if that blood, breath or urine test is suppressed due to a McNeely challenge, the state can still take you to trial and try to convict you of driving while impaired.

At our firm, "ready for trial" is a battle-cry, a chance for us to go toe-to-toe with the state and use our years of experience to make sure that the government does not get a conviction. For those average attorneys, however (the ones using recycled McNeely briefs and who don't really understand or believe in the issues presented) . .  well, take a look at the picture of the cute little baby at the start of this post.

An average attorney, as opposed to a great attorney, will go from the pure joy of getting a test result suppressed, to terror at having to actually take a case to trial, in about six seconds. That's not the way to win a case.

Despite the clear language of the McNeely decision, Minnesota still refuses to adjust their DWI laws to conform with the constitution. Until that day comes, either by legislative act or by judicial decree, we'll continue to fight the good fight. And we'll continue to tell our clients the honest truth: getting their test results suppressed is winning one battle, but does not necessarily mean we've won the war.

But it certainly brings us one step closer.

Requiem for an Amendment: What Does Freedom Look Like?


Has this happened to you, or someone you know?

Imagine a person, driving down a Minnesota road on their way home for dinner. They just attended a Thursday after-work happy hour. They had two drinks, ended the two hour event with a Sprite, and headed for home.

But their tires touched a lane marker, and they got pulled over. Shortly after admitting that yes, they drank some alcohol prior to driving, this person is placed under arrest. Handcuffed, placed in the back of a squad car, an armed and uniformed law enforcement agent transports them to the nearest jail.

At the jail, this person is sat down in a windowless, concrete room; nothing but a table and two chairs. They’re still sitting there in handcuffs when another armed and uniformed law enforcement officer enters the room. This agent reaches into a drawer, and pulls out a single sheet of paper.

In a monotone voice, echoing through the room, the agent begins speaking at you. You’ve been placed under arrest for driving while impaired. We want to perform a warrantless search of your body. You are required by Minnesota law to consent to this search. If you don’t consent to this search, we’ll be charging you with another crime - a crime called test refusal. You can try to call an attorney, but if you take too long, we’re just going to consider you to have refused. If you do reach an attorney, he’s ethically obligated to tell you to take this test.

Will you consent to this warrantless search and seizure?

Now, ask this person (who may or may not be you) do you feel like you even have the option to say no here? You’ve just been told that you are required to submit to a search by law, and that if you don’t, you’re automatically guilty of yet another crime. Sounds a little . . . coercive, doesn’t it? More than a little, in fact: short of threats of physical violence, can you imagine a more coercive situation?

Now imagine that you are in court, before a judge. That judge looks you square in the eye, and says, “I don’t find anything coercive about what went on in that windowless room between you and the police. In fact, I find that you freely and voluntarily consented to this search; it was your choice, and your choice alone.”

Does that sound like America, land of the free, and home of the brave? Or does it frighten you?

This argument is being played out in courtrooms around Minnesota; judges are being asked to determine what does - and what does not - count as “consent.” There are a lot of favorable cases directly on point, but I’m not going to cite to them today. Today, I’d rather cite to different types of cases.

Cases involving dissents. The types of cases where some justices thought that the majority got it wrong, that the Constitution was being thrown under the bus, that the document that makes Americans free was being marginalized and ignored. Because its happened before, and the only thing that will prevent it from happening again is conscientious judges and zealous defense attorneys.

If you were coerced into submitting to a warrantless search, make sure you lawyer up. Sometimes even the most basic legal doctrines - like whether or not someone has freely and voluntarily consented to waiving a crucial constitutional right - can become far more complex than you’d imagine.

And now some quotes:

“The issue in this case is not whether declaring a war on illegal drugs is good public policy. The importance of ridding our society of such drugs is, by now, apparent to all. Rather, the issue here is whether the Government's deployment in that war of a particularly Draconian weapon-the compulsory collection and chemical testing of railroad workers' blood and urine-comports with the Fourth Amendment. Precisely because the need for action against the drug scourge is manifest, the need for vigilance against unconstitutional excess is great. History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure . . . when we allow fundamental freedoms to be sacrificed in the name of real or perceived exigency, we invariably come to regret it.” Skinner v. Ry. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 635, 109 S.Ct. 1402, 1422-1423 (1989) (J. Marshall, dissenting)

“[C]onstitutional rights have their consequences, and one is that efforts to maximize the public welfare, no matter how well intentioned, must always be pursued within constitutional boundaries. Were the police freed from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment for just one day to seek out evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the resulting convictions and incarcerations would probably prevent thousands of fatalities. Our refusal to tolerate this specter reflects our shared belief that even beneficent governmental power-whether exercised to save money, save lives, or make the trains run on time-must always yield to “a resolute loyalty to constitutional safeguards.” The Constitution demands no less loyalty here.” Skinner v. Ry. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 650, 109 S.Ct. 1402, 1431 (1989) (J. Marshall, dissenting)

“If law enforcement were the chief value in our constitutional scheme, then due process would shrivel and become of little value in protecting the rights of the citizen. But those who fashioned the Constitution put certain rights out of the reach of the police and preferred other rights over law enforcement. . . Under our system of government, police cannot compel people to furnish the evidence necessary to send them to prison.” Breithaupt v. Abram, 352 U.S. 432, 414, 77 S.Ct. 408, 442-443 (1957) (J. Douglas, dissenting)

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 479, 48 S.Ct. 564, 572 (1928) (J. Brandeis, dissenting)

“Those who lose because of the lack of understanding that begot the present exercise in symbolism are not just the Customs Service employees, whose dignity is thus offended, but all of us who suffer a coarsening of our national manners that ultimately give the Fourth Amendment its content, and who become subject to the administration of federal officials whose respect for our privacy can hardly be greater than the small respect they have been taught to have for their own.” National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 687, 109 S.Ct. 1384, 1402 (1989) (J. Scalia, dissenting)

“Several years ago, Mr. Justice Stewart reminded us that ‘(t)he Constitution guarantees . . . a society of free choice. Such a society presupposes the capacity of its members to choose.’ I would have thought that the capacity to choose necessarily depends upon knowledge that there is a choice to be made. But today the Court reaches the curious result that one can choose to relinquish a constitutional right—the right to be free of unreasonable searches—without knowing that he has the alternative of refusing to accede to a police request to search.” Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 277, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2073 (1973) (J. Marshall, dissenting)

“It is regrettable that the obsession with validating searches like that conducted in this case, so evident in the Court's hyperbole, has obscured the Court's vision of how the Fourth Amendment was designed to govern the relationship between police and citizen in our society. I believe that experience and careful reflection show how narrow and inaccurate that vision is, and I respectfully dissent.” Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 290, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2080 (1973) (J. Marshall, dissenting)


Breaking News: Minnesota Supreme Court Grants Accelerated Review of McNeely Issue

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted accelerated review in the case of State v. Brooks, A11-1042.

This case will have a crucial impact on the future of DWI cases across Minnesota, as the Minnesota Supreme Court will be asked to address warrantless DWI searches in the wake of the Missouri v. McNeely decision.

By way of background (for those who want to sound smart when discussing the Supreme Court's decision to grant accelerated review): the Brooks case (which is actually a consolidated set of cases) was originally reviewed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals back in 2012. That time around, the court concluded that "single-factor exigency" permitted warrantless urine and blood tests. The Brooks case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court, who accepted review, promptly overturned the conviction, and then returned the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals with instructions to reconsider their decision in light of the McNeely case (which discarded the "single-factor exigency" doctrine).

So Brooks went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, before moving back to the Court of Appeals - except this time, the issue will more than likely focus on whether or not Brooks "freely and voluntarily" consented to this DWI search.

This issue - the issue of consent - reaches the core of the arguments we're raising against DWI tests across the state. And rather than let this appeal run through the traditional process, which can take over a year, this grant of accelerated review means that the Brooks case will be the Minnesota Supreme Court's first opportunity to issue a decision with statewide impact - and they recognize how important such a decision is.

Of course, there's a lot more to this decision to grant accelerated review than meets the eye . . . stay tuned.

And in case you missed it above, here's a copy of the order granting accelerated review.

By Popular Demand: Judge Pendleton's McNeely Order

In our previous blog we discussed the shifting legal landscape regarding district court challenges to DWI tests based upon the McNeely decision. We also included a link to a redacted copy of Judge Pendleton's recently issued analysis of the issue, which ultimately ruled (after detailed analysis) that a breath test search taken without a warrant was unconstitutional.

Many readers asked for a full version of the order.

Here it is.

Dissecting McNeely: An Insightful Analysis of Minnesota DWI Law (Updated)

Judges across Minnesota are beginning to issue orders that carefully analyze the impact of the decision in Missouri v. McNeely on Minnesota's DWI Laws.

Today we're going to post one of the more insightful orders issued to date, authored by the Honorable Alan Pendleton from the 10th Judicial District. Judge Pendleton is well regarded not just as a fair and honest judge, but also for his near limitless ability to act as an educator. Among other activities, Judge Pendleton authors a series of "Judicial Training Tips" that provide simple, quick reference sheets for our extremely overworked judiciary (we are a particular fan of his article on obtaining telephonic warrants)

We recently received a copy of his order, suppressing the results of a DWI breath test based upon the McNeely decision. This order, in our opinion, does a masterful job of explaining precisely how the Fourth Amendment applies to DWI searches, as well as how to analyze any potential exceptions to the warrant requirement that may exist in a DWI case. The order specifically deals with the "consent" exception in great detail, finding that there is no basis in law to conclude that "implied consent" equals actual consent for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

This is one decision worth reading carefully. Here's the link to the order and memorandum of law.

McNeely Myths: Debunking Arguments Regarding McNeely's Impact on Minnesota DWI Tests


The battle lines are being drawn, and across Minnesota prosecutors and defense attorneys are butting heads over the scope and impact of the United States Supreme Court's (SCOTUS) decision in Missouri v. McNeely. The McNeely decision was a shock to many prosecutors - few people (with our firm being a notable exception) expected the SCOTUS to completely gut one of the fundamental assumptions that have run through decades of DWI experience in Minnesota.

That fundamental assumption - fundamental and wrong - was that the Fourth Amendment didn't apply to DWI searches like blood, breath and urine tests. Now we're questioning decades of legal decisions and statutes, rooting out the false assumptions and making sure that when the government obtains a DWI test, they're not violating the Constitution while doing it.

But while we're digging in, prosecutors are shooting back - many times, with arguments that have no basis in law and would be comical . . . if not for the fact that people's liberty is at stake.

Today we'll discuss one of these "myths in the making," the claim that the McNeely decision only deals with coerced blood draws . . . and leaves all other laws involving blood, breath and urine tests intact. This argument also claims that while that blood tests might be true searches under the Fourth Amendment, urine and breath tests are not, and do not require warrants.

It's an argument that's hard to understand, but easy to rebut. The government will typically claim (for example) that because urine tests are "less intrusive" than blood tests, people have a lesser expectation of privacy, and therefore police don't really have to consider getting a warrant. And to support their argument, they'll cite to the case of Skinner v. Ry. Labor Execs.’ Ass’n. That case does, in fact, spend a fair amount of time weighing the government’s interest in quick results against individual privacy interests, in a careful attempt to "assess the practicality of the warrant and probable cause requirements." Long story short, Skinner asks "just how intrusive is this search . . . in comparison to how important the evidence we're seeking is."

Sounds like a strong argument against warrants for breath and urine tests, right? Well, it sure would be, if the SCOTUS hadn't made it painfully clear this type of balancing only happens in "special needs" situations. What are "special needs" situations? Glad you asked! They occur only when a search is being performed "beyond" the typical needs of law enforcement. In fact, the court goes so far as to note that their opinion is based upon the assumption that law enforcement will never even have access to these blood, breath and urine tests. And prosecutors are citing to the Skinner case to support their arguments . . .

. . . seeming without reading the portion of Skinner that says this: . . .“Subjecting a person to a breathalyzer test, which generally requires the production of alveolar or ‘deep lung’ breath for chemical analysis implicates similar concerns about bodily integrity and, like the blood alcohol test we considered in Schmerber should also be deemed a search.” And also this: “Because it is clear that the collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable, the Federal Courts of Appeals have concluded unanimously, and we agree, that these intrusions must be deemed searches under the Fourth Amendment.”

Needless to say, if the prosecutor tries to argue that you have a diminished privacy interest in your breath or your urine, and that DWI convictions are just too important to bother with the Fourth Amendment, have them read the Skinner decision beginning to end. Then have them read it again. Then, look them in the eye and ask them if they think that a DWI breath or urine test is a "special needs" search, and wait for their answer.

Because it is certainly not.

McNeely: Turning the Tide for DWI

Since the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) released its long-awaited decision in Missouri v. McNeely, Minnesota courts have struggled with how to apply the Fourth Amendment to DWI searches after years of believing that the Constitution's rule that all people have the right, "to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures" did not apply to DWI tests.

Some judges have simply carried on as usual, usually by finding that the McNeely decision somehow has no effect in Minnesota (we'll discuss the logic behind these rulings in our upcoming myth-busting blog series). Other judges have taken the cautious course - placing their cases on hold pending further guidance from Minnesota's own Supreme Court on how to deal with this thorny issue.

Some judges, however, see that this issue isn't nearly as "thorny" as it appears, and that McNeely applies to Minnesota DWIs in a very straight forward way (we even constructed a handy flow chart to show just how simple the analysis is).

Here are several examples of judicial orders suppressing DWI test results and/or thoughtfully discussing the implications of the Missouri v. McNeely decision in Minnesota. There are many more out there - we're not going to provide them all, but these orders in particular are insightful and well written, and stand as good examples.

But even these orders only tell half the story - we've resolved numerous cases without even litigating this issue simply on the strength of our arguments.

Sibley County Order

Stearns County Order

Washington County Order

Rice County Order

Congratulations and thanks go out to Sharon Osborn, Max Keller, Richard Swanson and Carson Heefner who provided us with copies of the orders we're sharing here today!

Minnesota DWI Cases & Post-McNeely Warrantless Searches: A Roadmap to Sanity

In the wake of Missouri v. McNeely, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges are all being forced to take a very careful look at the Fourth Amendment, and the new life that the U.S. Supreme Court recently breathed into the constitutionality of DWI cases.

We recognized immediately how far reaching the impact of the McNeely case would be, particularly in Minnesota, and have been continually surprised by the amount of prosecutors (and even defense attorneys) who don't seem to understand how the Fourth Amendment works.

To try and simplify things, we've created a handy flow chart as a teaching tool. Flow charts are a time-honored method used by law students around the country who are trying to understand even the simplest legal concepts. They lay out a simple roadmap to follow and can help "visual learners" grasp concepts that aren't always easy to pick up from just reading dense case law.

Obviously, this chart simplifies things to a degree (a surprisingly small degree) and is more of a "cheat sheet" for those with knowledge of the law, best used to remind them of just how fundamentally basic it is to apply the Fourth Amendment to a DWI search. We'll discuss each step of the process in upcoming blogs.

But without further ado, here's the chart (click this link for the simplified version). This chart should make it easier to see exactly how much of an impact the McNeely decision has in Minnesota, and how difficult it will be for prosecutors to introduce any test results in pending and future DWI cases. Feel free to print it out!

Minnesota Citizen Charged with DWI Test Refusal after Drinking Urine: Is Refusal Law Constitutional after McNeely?

Last week a man was arrested by Woodbury, Minnesota police on suspicion of driving while impaired (DWI). Once at the Washington County jail, the officer asked the man to provide a urine sample. The man urinated in a urine collection bottle that contained a white preservative called sodium fluoride. Instead of handing it to the officer, he drank his own urine. All of it.

Now in Minnesota it is a crime to refuse a DWI test. The crime is more severe than taking and failing the test in most circumstances. According to the local newspaper which first broke the story, the driver will be charged with that crime. While this guy will likely be fodder for late night comedians around the world, he shouldn't plead guilty to the crime to refusing to submit to a DWI test.

We believe the statute making it a crime to refuse a DWI test is unconstitutional, and here’s why: Blood, breath and urine tests are searches, which invoke the fourth amendment. Warrantless searches – like this one presumably was – are generally unconstitutional and the results of those searches can’t be used by the government, unless a person gives their consent to a search (test). If the test was consensual, the government doesn’t need to worry about getting a warrant, and the results are now admissible in court. The huge elephant in the room is the fact that Minnesota's test refusal law makes it a crime for a citizen to refuse to waive his constitutional right to say “no thank you, get a warrant” whenever the police attempt to conduct a warrantless search.

We've challenged Minnesota's DWI test refusal law for years. We were successful in a test refusal case at the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2007, but the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed that case in a 4-3 decision two years later. That reversal was where the Minnesota Supreme Court crafted their "single-factor-exigency" doctrine, which effectively said, “yes, blood/breath/urine tests are indeed searches, but the Fourth Amendment will never apply to them so law enforcement doesn’t need to even think about getting a warrant.”

Fortunately, the United State Supreme Court agreed with the three dissenting judges in Netland and struck down single factor exigency last month in Missouri v. McNeely. Although the U.S. Supreme Court didn't expressly overrule the Netland case, by invalidating single factor exigency and requiring search warrants in DWI cases, it cuts the legs out from the majority's opinion in Netland and essentially overturns the decision.

No Minnesota court has ruled on the constitutionality of Minnesota’s test refusal law since McNeely, but we expect our appellate courts to eventually find the law unconstitutional. Until then, pleading guilty to DWI test refusal doesn’t make sense-- even for those who chose to exercise their constitutional rights by . . . drinking their own urine.

Minnesota's Top DWI & DUI Defense Lawyers Present Continuing Legal Education Seminar

Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice

2013 Annual DWI Defense CLE – June 14, 2013

Recognized as the top DWI CLE in Minnesota

Featuring Prominent Local and Nationally Recognized DWI Attorneys

*** Recently Added *** Panel Discussion on Missouri v. McNeely


Every Minnesota DWI attorney should attend this seminar! Attendees will receive McNeely v. Missouri motions, memoranda and other documents. All materials will be provided on CD.


8:30 am                        Registration and Welcome


9:00-9:45 am                 View From The Appellate Bench:

The Honorable R.A. (Jim) Randall


9:45-10:30 am               Legislative and Case Law Update:

Douglas Hazelton


10:30-10:45 am            Break


10:45 am                      Enhancing DWI Penalties with Prior Implied Consent Revocations:

Dave Risk


11:15 am                      Prescription Drug DWIs and Revocations:

Jeff Sheridan


NOON                           Lunch (Included)


1:00-1:30 pm                 What Not to Do and How Not To Do It:

Samuel McCloud


1:30-2:30 pm                 Representing the Mentally Ill DWI Defendant:

Anna McLafferty (National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota)


2:30-2:45 pm                 Break


2:45-3:30 pm                 McNeely – Vindication and Application of Netland, Shriner and Wiseman:

Panel Discussion by Lead Attorneys:

Chuck Ramsay, Jeffrey Ring, Jeff Sheridan


3:30-4:30 pm                 Standardized Field Sobriety Testing – Problems and Procedures:

Rebecca Rhoda Fisher, Sharon R. Osborn, Pamela King


4:30 pm                        Adjourn for Social Hour

No prosecutors will be permitted. Click here for the flyer, more information and registration.

The Impact of McNeely: Fundamental Changes For Minnesota DWI Law

Nobody can deny the tremendous impact the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Missouri v. McNeely will have on how we handle Minnesota DWIs in the future. The McNeely decision breathed some much needed life into what many perceived as an ailing and weary Fourth Amendment - an Amendment that, together with the First Amendment, forms the absolute bedrock of a free society.

We've been preparing for years in the hopes that our Courts - as stewards of the Constitution - would interpret the Fourth Amendment in a way that makes sure that it actually does apply to DWI arrests. And now they have.

But change is difficult, even when it is staring you in the face. As every state in the union comes to terms with the new legal landscape post-McNeely, Minnesota is facing a particularly difficult upheaval, much more than most other states. This is due to two unique aspects of Minnesota law - the criminalization of test refusal (coerced consent) and the codification of suppression (I'll explain that in a minute).

First, consent: The vast majority of states didn't take the extreme step of outright criminalizing test refusal; Minnesota is in the minority of jurisdictions that makes it a crime to withhold your consent to a warrantless search. So, many states can safely wade through their pending and future DWI cases relying on the fact that most people will say "yes" when asked to submit to a blood, breath or urine test, and their consent eliminates the need to obtain a warrant.

But that's not Minnesota - in Minnesota, "yes" comes at the barrel of a gun, and can hardly be considered to be true consent. When saying "no" is a crime, it will always be nearly impossible for the government to persuasively argue that anyone is actually consenting to submit to a test.

Second, suppression: the courts have had a long-standing rule that evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution is inadmissible in court, referred to as the "exclusionary rule." There are a lot of policy reasons behind this rule, but it is sufficient to point out that if this illegally obtained evidence wasn't suppressed, we could just as well delete the entire Fourth Amendment and call it the "Bill of Guidelines" instead of the Bill of Rights.

Now, the federal courts have recently developed a new doctrine dealing with suppression, calling it the "good faith" exception to the warrant requirement. Again, it suffices to say that if an officer conducts a search that he believes to be constitutional, but that law is later overruled, this "good faith" exception basically means that even though the search was illegal, the evidence is still admissible in court.

Again, in many other states this means that all of the DWI cases put on hold pending McNeely didn't gain much from that decision. Their searches may have been illegal (unless they were consented to), but the evidence comes before the jury anyway, so it's a pretty hollow victory.

But Minnesota is different - where our Legislature made the questionable decision of criminalizing the act of not consenting to a warrantless search, they also made the inspired decision to pass a specific law that mandates the suppression of evidence for any illegal search. Minnesota Statute 626.21 says in no uncertain terms that illegal searches = suppressed evidence. Our own Minnesota Supreme Court has also repeatedly rejected the need for such a rule.

So Minnesota is in a pickle (to be fair, it's a pickle that could have easily been avoided): prosecutors can't say with a straight face that everyone has been consenting to their blood, breath and urine tests. The best they can say is that drivers keep saying "yes" after being properly threatened. And then, prosecutors have no "good faith" exception to fall back on, meaning if they want to maintain their DWI cases against our clients, they are going to have to prove that there simply wasn't enough time to get a warrant before our client's slipped below the legal limit. Considering the fact that we're still not properly training our officers on the simple task of obtaining a telephonic warrant, I don't see that argument being very successful.

There will be some significant growing pains in Minnesota as a result of the McNeely decision. There is a good chance many DWIs will be thrown out of court. But in the end, everyone will have a renewed respect for the Fourth Amendment; courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the legislature, and the general public. And that, too, makes us all safer.

DWI Urine Tests: U.S. Supreme Court Requires Search Warrant


TODAY the United State Supreme Court vacated a Minnesota DWI Urine test case and remanded back to Minnesota. 

This means that Urine & Breath test cases also are affected by the McNeely decision. 

This marks the end of most of Minnesota's DWI statute.


Charles Ramsay Explains the Impact of Missouri v. McNeely WCCO's Esme Murphy

Our own Charles Ramsay, known and respected across the country for his legal knowledge, appeared on WCCO Channel 4 News last night to provide his analysis of the recent Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely.

While prosecutors are publicly downplaying the impact of the decision, Ramsay explained how this broad reaching decision will affect not only blood test cases, but also breath and urine cases, and that law enforcement agents will need to quickly change their current procedures or risk having all test results thrown out of court.

You can watch the video of his interview below:



Ramsay Law Firm's Own Charles Ramsay Discusses Missouri v. McNeely on Eyewitness 5 News

Charles Ramsay appeared on KSTP Eyewitness 5 News last night to discuss the recent Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely and provide his experienced analysis.

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

Make no mistake - this decision will have a tremendous impact on all future DWI cases. This case marks an important shift towards a stricter interpretation of our Constitution's Fourth Amendment, upholding personal privacy rights against the steady onslaught of decisions that have steadily eroded our constitutional protections in the name of "efficiency."

A healthy respect for everyone's privacy does nothing to prevent law enforcement from doing their jobs - instead, it ensures that fewer innocent people will be subjected to intrusive searches on the whim of police officers. Hundreds of DWIs may be thrown out of court as a result of this decision, but in the long term, the legal system will be further strengthened and we will see less examples of "rogue" cops who would like to act with as little judicial oversight as possible.

Expect much more litigation in the aftermath of the McNeely decision, as courts nationwide (including Minnesota) come to terms with exactly how far-reaching the impact of this decision actually is.

Here's the video:

Four Years Later, Vindication: SCOTUS Upholds Missouri v. McNeely, overturns State v. Netland

The manner in which the police enforce Minnesota's DWI laws was fundamentally changed this morning, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark decision in the case of Missouri v. McNeely (link leads to a copy of the opinion).

It's a complicated decision broken down into four parts (some parts commanding a majority, some not), a concurrence, and a dissent. It will take time to fully digest exactly how many ways this decision will affect the future of Minnesota DWI law enforcement, but one thing is very clear.

The Supreme Court just overturned the decision in State v. Netland, a case we brought before the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2009. As a direct result of the McNeely decision, there is no longer a "single factor exigency" doctrine to speak of, meaning that law enforcement around the state (and the nation) will have to at least consider obtaining a search warrant prior to administering a chemical test for intoxication.

This will have a major impact on law enforcement practices going forward, but will have a much bigger effect on the many cases currently in the court system. We've been positioning our client's cases for months in anticipation of this decision, and plan to take full advantage of this fundamental change in the case law to benefit our clients.

The importance of this decision cannot be understated. Not only does the McNeely decision eliminate the judicially-constructed doctrine of "single factor exigency" once and for all (and add renewed strength to the privacy protections that are the cornerstone of the Fourth Amendment) but it opens a whole new can of worms in Minnesota. For starters, there is a good chance that Minnesota's test refusal law is no longer constitutional, and will have to be discarded.

We'll bring you more information once we've had a chance to fully digest the impact of this decision, but in the meantime, you may want to read some of our previous blogs leading up to today's opinion:

Agents of the Constitution: The "Show Me" State Protects the Fourth Amendment

U.S. Supreme Court to Decide if DWI Laws Are Unconstitutional

Minnesota's DWI Test Refusal Law in Review: Why the Crime of Test Refusal is Currently Considered Constitutional

The Future of Minnesota's DWI Law: How the McNeely Decision Will Affect DWI Arrests Here At Home

And again, if you'd like to read the actual language of the decision in Missouri v. McNeely, you can find it here

The Future of Minnesota's DWI Law: How the McNeely Decision Will Affect DWI Arrests Here At Home

As we discussed previously, the McNeely decision could have a huge impact on the way DWIs in Minnesota are handled in the future. The specific question presented to the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) in McNeely is as follows:

“Whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream.”

We know how the Minnesota Supreme Court answered that question; the holding in the Netland case was “the evanescent nature of the evidence creates the conditions that justify a warrantless search.” If the SCOTUS rules the other way - if they rule that a warrantless search is not justified solely on the basis of exigent circumstances - the decision in Netland will no longer be good law.

Of course, the SCOTUS could simply decide that exigent circumstances always apply to DWI searches, effectively agreeing with the current state of Minnesota law. However, if they choose to rule the way we think they will (upholding the Fourth Amendment and refusing to further erode the protections afforded by that amendment) the most important question will be “is there ever a circumstance where law enforcement can perform a chemical test without a warrant?” And the answer to this question is what will determine how the McNeely decision impacts Minnesota.

In many states, the argument could be raised that “exigent circumstances” don’t matter, because drivers will usually consent to a search (which is another exception to the warrant requirement). However this argument may play out in the various states, Minnesota is one of a handful of states that have gone to the extreme measure of criminalizing test refusal (the act of withholding consent). In most states, withholding consent results in a longer license revocation and a little less evidence of impairment at a criminal trial; in Minnesota, withholding consent still results in a longer license revocation . . . but also results being charged with a completely new, aggravated crime.

If I tell you to give me five dollars or I’ll punch you in the jaw, and you hand over the money, can anyone honestly believe that your act was consensual? A sane person would obviously answer “no” and that’s the same basic situation in Minnesota. It is difficult to imagine how a judge could rule that someone who agrees to a chemical test in Minnesota, after being directly told by a police officer that “refusal to take a test is a crime” did not feel coerced into agreeing to submit to that test. Now, nothing decided in a court of law is ever that simple, but if sane heads prevail, Minnesota will either have to do away with their criminalization of refusal, or be unable to rely upon the “consent” exception to the warrant requirement.

Which brings us back to the question, “ “is there ever a circumstance where law enforcement can perform a chemical test without a warrant?” Put another way, “can police obtain a warrant in a reasonable amount of time, in the knowledge that a driver’s alcohol concentration may be decreasing by the hour?” This type of analysis is performed regularly in other states (and was the state of the law in Missouri before the McNeely case), but Minnesota law enforcement is a little behind the curve on getting late night warrants (at least, that’s what they tell us whenever we put them on the stand . . . )

But even if our law enforcement will say it takes too long to get a warrant, the fact is that the Legislature has put all the procedures in place to ensure that getting late night warrants as quickly as possible isn’t all that difficult. Telephonic warrants are authorized by the Rules of Criminal Procedure, and our courts have already demonstrated that the procedure is perfectly valid. In fact, law enforcement was getting telephonic warrants in under an hour . . . back in 1993, before every teenager had a cell phone and every officer had internet access.

So, if the SCOTUS tosses the “exigent circumstances” argument as we expect, it will have a tremendous effect on both pending and future DWI cases. Because our refusal law, should it remain on the books, will blow the “consent” exception out the window, the admissibility of test results in Minnesota DWI cases will hinge on whether law enforcement had enough time to obtain a warrant. Currently, every officer we cross-examine says basically the same thing, “I didn’t even consider getting a warrant” or “I have no idea how to do that.” That’s a far cry from “there was not enough time to get a warrant because of X, Y, and Z.” And its even further from the truth - warrants can be obtained in less than an hour, perhaps as little as 20 minutes.

We could see a significant amount of DWIs dismissed in the aftermath of the McNeely decision. At a minimum, smart defense attorneys who are familiar with the law will have already laid the groundwork to raise such arguments once the SCOTUS issues their decision. And going forward, if the past is any guide, law enforcement (and sometimes even the courts) will be incredibly reluctant to change their ways and adapt to new circumstances, meaning that good defense attorneys will continue to get DWI test results thrown out of court long past the point where the government should have adapted.

But all this talk is focusing on people who submit to tests; what about those who do withhold their consent and refuse to submit to testing? McNeely could affect those cases too, and we’ll explain how in the next post.

DWI Defense Issues- 2012 Year in Review

Earlier this year we posted our prediction for the top-10 DWI issues for 2012. As it turns out, we hit on four of the top five. Here are the top five DWI defense stories of 2012.

1.     DWI Vehicle Forfeiture – The Minnesota   Supreme Court ruled our way on a forfeiture issue in Patino v. One 2007 Chevrolet. Attorney Dan Koewler of our firm wrote the Amicus position supporting Patino. This case made it more difficult for the government to take vehicles in DWI cases.

2.      Source Code – The Minnesota Supreme Court issued the long awaited ruling in the consolidated Source Code cases related to the Intoxilyzer 5000EN breath test cases. In a 4-3 ruling, the Court held that this DWI breath testing device is good enough to be admitted into evidence. 

Despite the June order, many cases are still being litigated at the trial court level. Others were resolved after prosecutors were forced to offer very favorable deals. 

One sticking point is the so-called EPROM issue that we discovered in the pre-trial discovery. The BCA failed to properly transfer the tested and validated software onto the computer chips which operate and control each Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test machine. Because of this, we believe the breath test results are not admissible in a case unless the government proves in each case that the breath test machine in that case contains the software tested and validated by the BCA.

3.     Urine Testing – The Minnesota issued another opinion in a DWI case addressing DWI urine testing. In State v. Tanksley, the court ruled that DWI drivers are not entitled to a so-called Frye hearing when challenging urine testing. Although some prosecutors and judges had hoped this ruling would put an end to urine testing challenges, we continue to prove them wrong with a series of victories, one of which we reported here.

4.     Uncertainty of Measurement – Although this issue continues to percolate, our firm has reviewed documents showing the BCA recognizes the need to establish the measurement error in each of its testing methods (blood, breath and urine) and in fact is preparing to do so. Courts, too, are recognizing the need for the government to prove alcohol test results within the measurement uncertainty. We are able to capitalize on this, as we did with this victory.

5.      DataMaster – In 2012 Minnesota finally stopped using the Intoxilyzer 5000 for breath testing and began exclusive use of the DataMaster breath test machine. We prepared ourselves last year by attending several DataMaster courses, including completing training at the manufacturer’s facility in Mansfield, Ohio. 

Although the DataMaster is a pretty good alcohol breath test machine, this year we discovered documents that the Minnesota crime lab is having difficulty with the machines. See the video Fox9 reported our discovery earlier this year. We will keep you updated as we continue to litigate these cases.

Next up:

Looking forward to 2013: Our predictions.

Beating Urine Tests: Dakota County Discards a DWI


Every DWI case is different. In our eyes, this means that every DWI is a new opportunity to win.

We recently won a DWI case out of Dakota County after convincing the judge to throw out the urine test results. The test result was a .08, and the State was not willing to dismiss the case - so we fought back.

We argued two theories as to why this test result didn’t matter. First, we argued that the BCA’s method of analyzing fluid samples (a gas headspace chromatograph) simply wasn’t accurate enough to prove that a .08 result (per se guilty) wasn’t really a .079 (innocence). This “uncertainty of measurement” argument is gaining steam nationwide, as judges take a closer look at the science behind DWI testing, and we’re leading the way in Minnesota in order to ensure our clients are not convicted based on bad science.

We also argued, in the alternative, that the test results in this particular case were not reliable because the very machine used to test the sample was calibrated in such a way so as to inflate the test results. Instead of taking the test results at face value, we examined every step of the process used to analyze our client’s sample and noticed this mistake.

It took half a day of expert testimony and some fairly in-depth argument, but we’re not one to back down from a fight. At the end of the day the judge agreed with us and our arguments, and threw out the test. We also managed to highlight the absurdity of the State’s position on DWI tests, and refuted their claims that their testing methods are infallible.

This is just one example of our many successes, highlighting just two of the legal defenses that can be raised in a DWI case. And it goes to show that you can’t win if you don’t fight.


Chuck Ramsay Discusses DWI Urine Tests on Fox 9 News

DWI Attorney Discusses DWI Tests:

Chuck Ramsay, recently selected as a 2011 Attorney of the Year and and referred to by this interviewer as the "leading expert on drunk driving laws," sat down with Jeff Passolt of Fox 9 News to discuss the significant scientific deficiencies in Minnesota's use of first-void urine alcohol testing (F-VUAT).  Watch the interview and hear why Minnesota is the only state in the country that continues to use this type of discredited DWI test, how F-VUAT erroneously punishes thousands of innocent drivers every year, and what you can do to protect yourself from incorrectly being labeled a "drunk driver".


Deliberate Destruction of DWI Evidence Deemed Unconstitutional on Due Process Grounds


Ever wonder what happens to that blood or urine sample that gets sent to the government lab for analysis once the testing is done? In Minnesota, the lab will hang on to the sample, giving defendants an opportunity to retest the sample and make sure that the lab’s results are correct.

At least, that’s what happens in most cases.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has a policy of destroying these samples after a year, likely to conserve storage space. However, not every case is resolved within a year - some counties will not allow a civil implied consent hearing to be held until the criminal case is completely over; sometimes witnesses are deployed overseas, and proceedings are put on hold; sometimes the issues are so complicated that additional hearings are required. Even if that happens - even if a case is still pending after one year- the current BCA policy is still the same: destroy the sample, without regard for whether or not the case has resolved.

This is even the policy if the defendant’s attorney specifically demands that the government preserve the evidence until the conclusion of the case. However, that policy is likely about to change, after our Court of Appeals ruled that such a procedure is unconstitutional.

In State v. Hawkinson, the court held that the government’s destruction of crucial evidence (a blood sample) while the criminal case is still pending is unconstitutional, especially when the defense went out of their way to specifically demand that the government preserve the evidence. While this decision seems like a no-brainer, the state of the law regarding the storage of evidence is often both complex and confusing, making this decision that much more important.

Being a good defense attorney means knowing the ins and outs of the law, as it develops. That includes making specific demands that may seem redundant and silly - like telling the government to hang onto their key evidence until the trial is over - but preservation demands like this can be the difference between the suppression of evidence and being left hanging high and dry, without any way to challenge the government’s test result.

But I Had A Prescription! Minnesota DWI Laws Turn Innocent Conduct Into Criminal Behavior.


Minnesota DWI laws make it a crime to drive a motor vehicle when a “person's body contains any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite….” Since many prescription drugs are listed in Schedule I or Schedule II of Controlled Substances, this means that many drivers violate the law each day, even while strictly following doctors’ orders.

Nationally renowned attorney, Justin McShane, reminded us about the absurdity of this type of law in a blog post, DUI Arrests Purposely Targeting Innocent People. Noting that the Pennsylvania laws “target” innocent people, McShane wrote:

You may be surprised to learn that some DUI laws in Pennsylvania specifically target innocent people. Yes, even if you haven’t had a sip of alcohol or abused any illicit drugs, you can still be arrested for DUI and charged with a DUI equivalent to those with [illegal] blood alcohol levels. Even for a “first offender” this can mean … months in prison, … fines and a … license suspension.

Welcome to the upside down world of DUI-prescription drugs.

…[Y]ou can be arrested and even convicted of a DUI for taking certain common medications     which include pain killers, allergy medications and even certain types of cough syrup. The government can even try to prosecute you even if you are taking them while following a valid prescription. 

Minnesota’s DWI – drug laws are similar; in terms of scope, enforcement and absurdity.

An Illusory “Exception”?

While the law makes it a crime to have certain prescription drugs in your system, a provision in Minnesota’s law creates a defense to DWI – drugs for those who can prove to a jury or judge that they took the drug in accordance with a prescription. Unfortunately, this exception shifts the burden of proof to defendants and in almost every case would require them to take the stand in their own defense. We believe this violates basic, fundamental, constitutional trial rights. Most alarming, this exception applies only in criminal cases. Minnesota’s Implied Consent Law does not recognize this affirmative defense in civil, drivers’ license cases.

Can this really be what the legislature intended? What percentage of the population is violating this law today? How many of them are legislators driving with a schedule I or II prescription drug in their system?

Look for our blog post coming soon: “Doctrine of Absurd Results.”

Felony DWI Law: Minnesota Supreme Court to Decide Which Controls - Plain Language or Legislative Intent


In the case of State of Minnesota v. Retzlaff, the defendant submitted a breath sample of .19 on the Intoxilyzer 5000. Because he had previously been convicted of felony criminal vehicular operation in March 2000, was charged with a Felony DWI.

Normally in Minnesota, a person must have three prior qualified driving incidents within the last ten years in order to be charged with a felony. One statute seems to permit enhancement to a felony where a person was previously convicted of a felony under the criminal vehicular operation / criminal vehicle homicide statute.

In Retzlaff, the defendant argued he could not be charged with felony drunk driving because the enhancement provision of the Felony DWI Law refers to a statute numbered differently from his prior conviction. Retzlaff argued that the law as currently written expressly enhances offenses to Felony 1st degree DWI when the driver had a prior conviction under 609.21, subdivision 1. In fact, he had been convicted of criminal vehicular operation under section 609.21, subdivision 2A

The trial court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that he could be charged under the statute, despite the obvious discrepancy. The appellate court noted even where the law is clear and unambiguous, further analysis is “necessary if the plain meaning leads to absurd or unreasonable results that depart from the purpose of the statute.”

Because we are convinced that Retzlaff’s literal interpretation would utterly confound the statute’s intent, we affirm his conviction of first-degree driving while impaired.

The Supreme Court granted review on February 14, 2012. We look forward to reviewing the parties’ briefs, watching the oral argument and reading the Supreme Court’s order.

In the meantime, we intend to use “absurd result doctrine” in urine cases to demonstrate that the legislature did not intend to make criminals out of drivers who have zero alcohol in their blood, but are over the legal limit by urine. Watch for our next post in the Minnesota DWI Defense Blog: “Does the Absurd Results Doctrine Preclude First-Void Urine Alcohol Testing?”

State v. Tanksley: Minnesota Supreme Court Decision Doesn't Tank Issue of DWI Urine Testing


The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision today in the case of State v. Tanksley. In this case, the Court held that the appellant was not entitled to a first-prong Frye-Mack hearing to contest the scientific reliability of first-void urine alcohol tests (F-VUAT), stating that appellant had not properly raised a “relevant reason for holding a [Frye-Mack] hearing” and denying Tanksley’s attempt to raise further arguments for the first time on appeal. On these facts, the Supreme Court held that the general acceptance of F-VUAT testing by the scientific community was irrelevant when someone was charged with the per se crime of driving with an alcohol concentration over .08g per 67 mL of urine.

At first blush, this decision is a harsh blow to anyone charged with a DWI based upon widely-discredited F-VUAT tests. However, Tanksley is as important for what it does say as for what it does not.

This decision makes it clear that our courts will not subject F-VUAT tests to the scrutiny of the fist-half of the Frye-Mack test. But remember . . . the Frye-Mack standard asks two questions. First it asks if a test has gained “general acceptance” (for the last time, it certainly has not, but the Court has ruled that the very question is irrelevant). Secondly, and most importantly, the Frye-Mack test asks whether or not the test has foundational reliability. Those two words are some of the most loaded words in the legal language, and go to the heart of our argument against F-VUAT testing.  And that question - “Does F-VUAT testing have foundational reliability?” - was never even addressed by counsel for Tanksley and thus was not addressed in the Tanksley decision.

We have that very question up on appeal, and are prepared to argue it to the Supreme Court in the wake of the Tanksley decision. And while the Tanksley decision made it clear that their decision was based upon a fear that any other ruling would force them to “add an element to the alcohol-concentration offense that is not present, ” our challenge to the foundational reliability of F-VUAT tests has nothing to do with statutory language. In other words, challenging the foundational reliability of a F-VUAT urine test does not hinge on the criminalization of .08g of alcohol per 67 mL of urine; instead, the challenge is based upon how we reach that .08 threshold. And the scientific community makes one thing clear - that foundational reliability requires a second void.

Although the Tanksley decision answered one question, it left another one wide open . . . meaning that F-VUAT tests haven’t yet seen the end of their troubles in court.

#1 Ongoing Problems With DWI First-Void Urine Alcohol Tests (F-VUAT)

It’s been over a year since the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its decision in State v. Hull, which paved the way for further Frye-Mack challenges to Minnesota’s use of first-void urine alcohol testing (F-VUAT). Those challenges have worked their way through the appeals process, and we’re anxiously awaiting decisions on the cases that we currently have before the Supreme Court. The first half of 2012 should see a decision regarding whether or not F-VUAT can be challenged at a Frye hearing in order to determine whether or not the practice is generally accepted in the scientific community.

Alongside our challenges to the general acceptance of F-VUAT (under the first prong of the Frye-Mack standard) is our companion challenge to the foundational reliability of F-VUAT testing (the second prong of analysis under the Frye-Mack standard). While the second prong of the Frye-Mack standard also involves a “general acceptance by the scientific community” component, this particular issue has not yet been raised before the Supreme Court . . . for now, it’s still a battle that will take place county by county, case by case, judge by judge.

Yet another key issue surrounding F-VUAT, which was also accepted for review by the Supreme Court, is whether or not criminal defendants and civil license revocation petitioners are entitled to present expert testimony to challenge the validity and reliability of F-VUAT tests. Resolution of this issue not only implicates the scientific foundation of F-VUAT testing in general, but also involves the key Due Process right of every defendant to present a complete defense.

What is clear is that the Supreme Court is taking a close look at F-VUAT testing, and that 2012 will likely see several decisions from the Court clarifying both the future of the Frye-Mack test with respect to all types of forensic evidence, as well as the specific use (or exclusion) of F-VUAT testing in Minnesota.

What other top issues will we see in 2012? To see the full list, check out Top Ten Issues in Minnesota DWI Law in 2012.

Minnesota BCA Insider Blows Whistle on Shoddy Work and Unethical Conduct: Act of Courage or Just Plain Cowardice? Part II:


We blogged last week regarding yet another problem that affects first void urine alcohol tests (F-VUAT) that are tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. In one case, we re-tested a urine sample that was reported to have an alcohol concentration of .09. Our retest, performed at an accredited laboratory, reported a result of .05 – significantly lower than .09, and well below the legal limit of .08.

Via sworn testimony at an Implied Consent hearing, we were told the following two tidbits:

1)    The open admission that BCA forensic scientists routinely botch the handling of crucial evidence in about half of all DWI urine cases, resulting in destruction of the evidence; and,

2)      The revelation that this mishandling of evidence, a problem that was announced to have been “solved” in a 2003 study by the BCA toxicology supervisor, has actually continued non-stop since that day, and that the BCA does not think that it is necessary to inform anyone about it.

So why the discrepancy?

Although the BCA forensic scientist who analyzed the sample was unable to account for the differences, the Commissioner called a second BCA employee to justify the discrepancy. His explanation was alarming.

He claimed that after testing our client’s sample, the BCA froze what was left to “preserve” it. He then speculated that the freezing (instead of refrigerating) the sample caused it to lose alcohol. This, despite the fact that the 2003 peer-reviewed study addressed this issue and determined that the use of a different type of storage container would correct any problems like this.

Strangely, while acknowledging the BCA continues to use the same containers that were previously found to correctly preserve these urine samples, he then testified that the conclusions of the previous 2003 peer-reviewed study are wrong – despite the fact that 1) he was an employee of the BCA at the time the study was published, 2) neither he nor the BCA has taken steps to correct the published article, and 3) he is of the personal opinion that the BCA has no duty to actually preserve these samples for retesting, because his lab results are good enough!

Not only does he disagree with the published 2003 peer- reviewed study, he openly speculated that shoddy work forensic scientists at the BCA are responsible for this discrepancy. Specifically, his “conjecture” is that the forensic scientist who analyzed our client’s urine test failed to properly seal the urine container - which then purportedly allowed the alcohol to evaporate. He also believes that an analyst’s failure to properly secure the lid on the urine samples occurs in about ½ of all the urine test samples at the BCA lab! Under his version of the truth, literally thousands of samples are being destroyed (from an evidentiary standpoint) because analysts can’t be bothered to tighten the lids properly.

If this explanation holds up in court, the BCA has stumbled upon a dramatic new way to forever prevent any other lab from reviewing their results. If a retested sample produces the same results, they can claim that this just supports the fact that they did everything right the first time. If a retested sample produces different results, they can keep on saying that they did everything right the first time, and blame that tricky sample for changing on them!

Last week we rhetorically asked when would a courageous BCA employee come forward and blow the whistle on BCA practices. We did not think it would happen like this! Ironically, it is the “whistleblower’s” attempt to explain the discrepancy between two test results that reveals not only widespread incompetence and fraud by omission, but as a panel of judges in the State of Washington put it, it may also reveal a culture of “‘culture of compromise’ with so many “ethical lapses, systemic inaccuracy, negligence and violations of scientific principles.”

Are we just beginning to scratch the surface in Minnesota? 

Minnesota BCA Insider Blows Whistle on Shoddy Work and Unethical Conduct: Act of Courage or Just Plain Cowardice? Part I:

A senior forensic scientist at Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has come forward with shocking revelations. According to the sworn testimony of the 25-year veteran:

1)      BCA forensic scientists routinely botch the handling of crucial evidence in about half of all DWI urine cases, resulting in destruction of the evidence; and,

2)      A 2003 BCA study published in a prestigious publication includes misleading results and inaccurate conclusions; the BCA has refused to publicly correct its findings and conclusions with the scientific community.

Unfortunately, these revelations come not from a courageous government servant blowing the whistle on shoddy forensic work and unethical conduct. Instead, it’s just another attempt by the Minnesota BCA to justify - at all costs – a truly shocking lack of scientific accountability.

The Rest of the Story…

The two revelations listed above came to light during a civil implied consent hearing. The State revoked our client’s driver’s license when the BCA reported a urine test result as .09. We had the same sample analyzed by an independent lab, which reported a .05! (See more on independent analysis of urine samples). Now, before you jump to any conclusions, you need to know that two separate BCA witnesses and our privately retained forensic scientist all agreed that the independent lab’s test result was valid, reliable and accurate.

The parties presented two equally valid samples with widely disparate results. One result supported the license revocation (being slightly above a .08) while the other (well below .08) did not.

This situation underscores just one of the many, many problems that surround the use of first void urine alcohol tests (F-VUAT) for DWI purposes. Not only can two separate urine samples, taken minutes apart, produce dramatically different results, but now we see that the same sample, tested on different days, can also produce shockingly inconsistent results.

How did we get to this point? Did the BCA, faced with such baffling evidence, agree that their procedures were faulty? Did the State admit error, and tell our client she could have her license back? Sadly, when you live and drive in one of the only states in the world who still use F-VUAT, you’re not dealing with a state that is likely to admit that it made a mistake.

Instead, what was revealed was the startling revelations revealed above. Next week, we’ll relay to you exactly what was said, and why it’s so troubling.

Will I Lose My License If A Blood or Urine Test Shows I Smoked Marijuana Before Driving?


There are two types of punishment the state can impose on a driver who allegedly operated a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance – although not all controlled substances are viewed equally. In Minnesota, the state cannot revoke your license to drive (one type of punishment) based solely on a positive blood or urine test for marijuana under Minnesota’s Implied Consent laws. However, if a prosecutor charges you with the crime of driving while impaired (the second type of punishment) you will lose your license if convicted.

Minnesota has two methods of taking your license in this situation: through the Minnesota Implied Consent Act (civil driver’s license revocation) and as a direct consequence if you are convicted of a crime. 

Civil Driver’s License Revocation

Minnesota’s Implied Consent Act permits the state to revoke a driver’s license to drive when a driver’s alcohol concentration is .08 or more or when a blood or urine test detects any amount of most drugs or their metabolites, including prescription medications. As we discussed recently, the state may take the license even before the driver goes to court under the Implied Consent Act.

However, Minnesota treats marijuana differently from other drugs and alcohol. It cannot take away a person’s license to drive under this law when blood or urine tests detect the presence of marijuana under any circumstances.

Criminal DWI Laws

So, in Minnesota, it is not, under the Implied Consent Laws, automatically a crime to drive a vehicle with marijuana in your blood or urine. Unlike other drugs, Minnesota does not make it a crime to have marijuana in a driver’s system – meaning that there is no “per se” limit for marijuana. While the legal driving limit for alcohol is .08, and any amount of methamphetamine will provide a basis to charge someone with DWI, there is no minimum (or even a maximum) amount of marijuana that you can have in your system before it is illegal to drive.

This isn't to say you can feel free to toke up prior to driving, because it is still a crime to drive while "under the influence " of marijuana. If a person is actually impaired by the use of marijuana at the time they are driving, they can and probably will be charged with DWI.  However, unless you plead guilty to such a charge, it is extremely difficult for a prosecutor in most cases to meet the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the matter goes to a jury, a good defense attorney can often suppress the results of any blood or urine tests, as the scientific community is in agreement that evidence of prior marijuana consumption simply does not have any bearing on whether or not  someone was actually impaired by marijuana. And without those test results, the prosecutor's case is usually pretty weak. While it is never a good idea to drive a vehicle while tired, texting, after consuming alcohol, or with any sort of "hard" narcotic in your system, Minnesota has crafted its laws in such a way so as to make it easier to avoid a license revocation for those drivers who may have recreationally used marijuana in the past (which, let me make clear, is a crime in Minnesota) but who were not impaired at the time they were actually driving.

Minnesota's Implied Consent Law: Is It (Again) Unconstitutional?


Shoot First – Ask Questions Later

Under a shoot-first-ask-questions-later philosophy, the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety can take away drivers’ licenses without first conducting a hearing on the propriety of the revocation pursuant to the Minnesota Implied Consent Act. Although drivers may challenge the license revocation in court, it can take months before the case goes to court. Even in those cases where a judge ultimately orders license reinstatement, the damage is already done. There is no way to “undo” the loss of a license during the wait. But a major overhaul to the law may have so radically changed the legal landscape that the law is no longer constitutional.

Previous Constitutional Challenges to Minnesota’s Implied Consent Law

The Minnesota Supreme Court has found the basic premise of pre-hearing license revocation to be constitutional. In balancing the interests of public safety against the rights of individual drivers, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld in Heddan v. Dirkswager (1983) that there were sufficient procedural safeguards to protect the private interest of the driver. At the time those protections included (1) the relatively short revocation period; (2) the immediate availability of a work permit; and (3) a speedy hearing.

After the legislature tinkered with the statute, the Minnesota Supreme Court warned the legislature in the 1994 Davis case not to further erode the procedural safeguards or it would strike down the law as unconstitutional. Although the court upheld the statute, it was troubled by the fact that “a court cannot undo an erroneous revocation,” because “full retroactive relief cannot be provided” and “even a day’s loss of a driver’s license could inflict grave injury upon a person.”

Minnesota Supreme Court: Law Violates Constitution

While it was not “prepared at [that] time to conclude that the legislation in question violate[d] either federal or state due process guarantees,” in 2003 the legislature removed drivers’ right to a prompt hearing. For the first time, the Minnesota Supreme found the law unconstitutional in Fedziuk v. Commissioner of Public Safety (2005), holding that that the law offended the constitution’s right to due process.

New, Radical Changes

Despite the Supreme Court’s early warnings and then later finding the Implied Consent Act unconstitutional, the 2010 legislature radically changed the implied consent law. In doing so, the legislature increased the duration of a first time misdemeanor revocation from 90 days to one year and completely removed the right to a work permit for those with an alleged alcohol concentration of .16 or more.

The legislature attempted to give the appearance of softening the blow to drivers by providing for “zero day eligibility” for ignition interlock. This is just a mirage. First, the administrative process is so unwieldy the Department of Public Safety has been unable to provide anything close to immediate reinstatement, even with the installation of the interlock devices. Second, the cost is prohibitive for most. While the costs vary, drivers must pay hundreds of dollars in fees for installation and monitoring to private carriers. They must pay a $680 reinstatement fee. Finally, they must fork over a four digit amount in advance for a one-year, non-cancellable insurance policy. Presumably, even if a court finds the revocation improper, it would be impossible to undo the erroneous revocation and provide full retroactive relief. Not only would the interim loss of the license inflict injury, but the driver would lose thousands in costs of the ignition interlock program and non-cancellable insurance. 

The Risk of Erroneous License Revocation is Higher Today Than Ever

Finally, the risk of erroneous deprivation is higher today than ever. The state continues to use the Intoxilyzer 5000 for DUI breath testing, which does not always work properly according to the judge in the consolidated source code case. Or, it relies on DUI urine testing using procedures not accepted by the scientific community – and not used at all in any other jurisdiction in the entire country.

Our firm is raising this issue in almost every DUI case.  There is no doubt it will eventually come before the Supreme Court.  Will it find the law unconstitutional? 

DWI Urine Alcohol Testing Case Set for Oral Argument

The Minnesota Supreme Court has set State v. Tanksley for oral argument on October 5, 2011 at William Mitchell College of Law

The issue in the case is whether the trial court erred by denying the driver the right to have a so-called Frye-Mack hearing, to determine whether the scientific community recognizes urine alcohol testing as generally reliable in DWI cases.

Minnesota appears to be the only jurisdiction in the country that routinely uses random sample first void urine testing to determine a specific level of alcohol concentration. Government agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and quasi-government agencies such as National Safety Council, Subcommittee on Alcohol and Other Drugs do not recommend urine testing for such purposes.

Our firm has pioneered this challenge in DWI cases and will be following this case closely. In fact, several of our clients’ cases have been accepted by the Minnesota Supreme Court for review, but have been stayed pending the outcome of Tanksley.  

You can bet we’ll be following this closely and will post an update immediately after the arguments early next month. 

Pt 2: Imprecise DWI Tests: Good Enough for Government Work?

Last week we told you that the scientific community requires blood, breath and urine tests be reported not as a certainty, but with a confidence interval that has a high probability of containing the true alcohol level. (This is not to be confused with results involving mistakes or blunders; uncertainty assumes that no mistakes or blunders have been made.) Therefore, due to the uncertainty in every measurement, the state must report a DWI alcohol test results with a range, not as a single number.

This raises some interesting questions for drivers in Minnesota who face criminal penalties or civil license revocation, or vehicle forfeiture.

Are there established confidence intervals for Minnesota DWI tests? 

Neither the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety nor the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has published established confidence intervals for any DWI test in Minnesota (blood, breath or urine). 

Despite the 2009 National Academy of Science Report to Congress which requires that each lab analyze and establish confidence intervals for each type of test, Minnesota has failed. Nationally renowned attorney, Ted Vosk, has advocated with some success that no test result should be admitted as evidence unless it meets these criteria. (Note to practicing attorneys, judges and scientists: I highly recommend you read Mr. Vosk’s work along with the NAS report to get a better understanding. See others including Justin McShane.)

How can I use measurement uncertainty in my case?

One well respected scientist has analyzed the data from Minnesota’s Intoxilyzer 5000 to establish a confident interval. Analyzing test data provided by the Minnesota BCA of more than 44,000 breath tests, Rod Gullberg determined that the uncertainty of measurement of a .08 breath test in Minnesota’s Intoxilyzer 5000 EN is approximately nine percent. Rod G. Gullberg, Breath Alcohol Measurement Variability Assessment with Different Instruments & Protocols, 131 Forensic Science International 30 (2003).

This percentage increases with the level of alcohol. At an alcohol concentration of 0.20, the measurement uncertainty is even greater. One must have a thorough understanding of complicated mathematical and scientific concepts to use his formula. For more information, see his work at the Borkenstein Course.

So what does this mean for drivers with alcohol concentrations close to critical levels? The Minnesota legislature has mad .04, .08, .16, .20 critical levels of alcohol concentration.  In addition to other defenses, measurement uncertainty should be employed to defeat blood, breath and urine testing.

Imprecise DWI Tests: Good Enough for Government Work?

Minnesota analyzes drivers’ blood, breath and urine to determine a specific level of alcohol concentration. The manner in which the state reports the results leads us to believe they are very certain that the results are 100% accurate.

This is definitely not the case and is inconsistent with well-established scientific standards.

As with all scientific testing, laboratory analyses conducted by forensic scientists are subject to measurement error. Consider the following situation, based on an example taken from 2009 National Academy of Science Report to Congress:

It’s a DWI case in which the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension tests a driver’s blood using “state of the art” instruments. The lab analyzes the blood three times. The instruments’ measurements are 0.08 percent, 0.09 percent, and 0.10 percent.

Minnesota takes the lower of the three measurements, and reports that result – 0.08 – as a certainty. They even try to claim that by taking the lowest number, they’re somehow “helping” the test subject by giving them the benefit of the doubt. This is not only incredibly misleading, but in examples like this, downright wrong. It’s the type of sleight of hand that looks good, but is flat out unscientific. Scientifically speaking, the “conclusion” that should be reached in the above example is that the test result is no higher than .07! (0.09 +- .02 for those of you with statistics training, and further explained below).

As the NAS Report says, the variability in the three measurements may arise from the internal components of the instrument, the different times and ways in which the measurements were taken, or a variety of other factors. These measured results must be reported, along with a confidence interval that has a high probability of containing the true blood-alcohol level (e.g., the mean plus or minus two standard deviations). For this illustration, the average is 0.09 percent and the standard deviation is 0.01 percent; therefore, a two-standard-deviation confidence interval (0.07 percent, 0.11 percent) has a high probability of containing the person’s true blood-alcohol level.

See, 2009 report to Congress of a Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community, Strengthening Forensic Science in the Unites States: A Path Forward, (2009).

In criminal cases the government has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the driver’s alcohol concentration is over a specific alcohol concentration. When the Intoxilyzer reports an alcohol concentration of .08, juries are left to believe that result is a certainty. It is not.

This becomes even more significant when test results are near .04, .08, .16, .20. The government lab report misleads judges, juries and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. As a result, drivers are erroneously convicted of drunk driving and may go to jail. They may lose their license to drive and face penalties which include ignition interlock, or vehicle forfeiture and plate impoundment. 

Next: Are there established confidence intervals for Minnesota DWI tests? What are they? How can I use them in my case?


Selective Facts Make Bad Law


The use of urine tests for DWI’s in Minnesota received yet another endorsement from the Court of Appeals today. At issue in the case of Ellingson v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety was the question of whether urine tests fell into the “single factor exigency” doctrine that permits law enforcement to collect other types of samples (blood and breath) without first obtaining a warrant.

What makes the issue compelling - and highlights another reason why Minnesota is pretty much the only place in the world that is still using urine tests - has to do with the basic fact that the alcohol in a person’s bladder is fundamentally different than the alcohol in a person’s bloodstream.

The argument, simply put, is that while your average person’s blood alcohol steadily decreases over time (due to action by the liver and kidneys) the same doesn’t hold true for alcohol in a person’s bladder. In fact, we’ve presented unrebutted expert testimony in court that urine alcohol, compared to blood alcohol, doesn’t decrease at all.

In the Ellingson case, the court was only presented with the testimony of a government-paid, government employed lab technician, who convinced the court that urine alcohol “could” rapidly change in concentration. However, if you ask a toxicologist who isn’t employed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apphrension, they’ll tell you that any change in urine alcohol concentration could affect, at most, the third digit (example: a sample that would test at .105 could, over an hour, change by about .002).

Thus, the “single-factor exigency” doctrine, which was designed to apply in blood and breath test cases where alcohol concentration can go down by .015 in an hour, now applies to situations where any alcohol concentration may be decreasing by a comparatively minuscule amount.

This issue is far from finished. The Ellingson court based its finding on a very lenient standard of review (it gave great deference to the lower court’s opinion of the testimony it was presented with). In another case, with more accurate testimony, the courts will still be free to find that urine alcohol concentration doesn’t diminish rapidly enough to permit a warrantless intrusion. This is just another example of bad facts making for bad law. 

DWI Urine Tests: Minnesota Appellate Court Signals Need for Search Warrant.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued an order last week which could signal a dramatic shift in the way DWI alcohol tests - especially urine tests - are conducted, while breathing new life into the Fourth Amendment.

In DWI arrests where the police obtain a breath or a blood sample, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that there is no need to obtain a warrant before getting a sample. While blood, breath and urine tests are considered “searches” for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment Warrant Clause, our Supreme Court crafted a narrow exception to the warrant requirement in DWI cases where blood or breath samples were collected. The Court ultimately held that the, “rapid, natural dissipation” of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream meant that there was no time to obtain a warrant –that any driver’s alcohol concentration could fall below the legal limit while the police were in the process of obtaining a warrant. 

While this “single factor exigency” doctrine has never been approved in urine test cases, the trial court did so in the case of Swanson v. Commissioner of Public Safety. In that case, an expert witness testified to the common fact that urine alcohol concentration doesn’t “rapidly dissipate” like blood and breath alcohol (as we’ve said for years, the only way your urine alcohol concentration decreases is by voiding your bladder). Despite this testimony, the court held that an officer still did not have time to obtain a search warrant without losing alcohol evidence, and upheld the license revocation. Sam McCloud, the attorney representing the driver in Swanson, rightly appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Then, in a rare procedural move, the Court of Appeals did two things: it signaled its intentions to hold that the “single factor exigency” doctrine does not apply in DWI urine cases, but then chose to send the case back to the trial court to further develop the record. Specifically, the Court wanted to make sure that no other exceptions to the warrant requirement (specifically, the “consent” exception) were present. 

In its order, the Court of Appeals said:

“Hypothetically, if this court were to hold that the exigency exception does not apply, a remand would be necessary to determine the applicability of the consent exception, for that issue was not decided by the district court and was not briefed or argued on appeal. To foster a meaningful review in this appeal, the district court must decide the applicability of both exceptions. Therefore, the district court is directed to decide the issue of whether the consent exception applies in this case, and the matter is remanded as to that issue.”

In our humble opinion, if the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, it simply would have affirmed the lower court’s order. Because it remanded the case for further proceedings, it appears the court of appeals believes the consent issue to be controlling. Talk about a positive sign – right on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to review the science behind urine testing, the appellate courts are now also carefully considering the science behind drunk driving offenses. 

So, the question is now, “did the driver actually consent to a urine test?” Well, we suggest you stay tuned - later this week we’ll explain exactly why the driver did not consent, and why Minnesota is one of very few states where saying “yes” to a urine test isn’t the same thing as consenting to a urine test.  

Going Into Effect July 1: The Law of Unintended Consequences

Minnesota’s expansion of ignition interlock devices this summer may cause more problems than state officials anticipated. You might remember our previous blog about the earlier stages of this program, but now the “pilot” project is official. As of July 1, 2011, first time DWI arrestees may be required to install the devices in their vehicles in order to get their drivers’ licenses back in a reasonable period of time.

State officials might see the interlock device as a panacea for repeat DWI offenders (see below), but what I see are all of the potential problems that will arise. 

Minnesota Lawyers front page story this week, headlined, “DWI Law Changes Worry Lawyers,” cited Bill Lemons, the traffic safety resource prosecutor from the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, as saying,

[T]he program helps offenders get their lives back on track sooner because they can drive right away, and the ignition interlocks will mean safer roads for everyone else. In addition, it ensures offenders will drive legally instead of driving with a revoked license.

“We would like to see all [of those offenders] get the ignition interlock,” said Lemons. “The research shows that the program is only effective when the device is in the car. Absent that behavior changing program, the likelihood to re-offend goes right back to where it was.”

Defense attorneys paint a less-rosy picture. Jeff Sheridan, a criminal defense attorney from Eagan, told the paper the law fails to take into account that not every other state has an ignition interlock program. 

What about the guy who is up here on business and gets arrested and his state doesn’t do interlock?” Sheridan said. “Is his home state is required to enforce the revocation? Is he supposed to put [a device] on his car anyway?

“I encourage the interlock device [with my clients] but assuming that there are going to be no problems is a bit of a step,” he said.

Kelly Keegan, an Anoka defense attorney, pointed out other limitations to the program, including the hefty price of participating - costs that may prevent many from using the device at all.

Minnesota Lawyer asked me about a bill pending before the legislature which would significantly increase the driver’s license revocation period for repeat offenders and for those with an alcohol concentration .16 or more.  As I told the weekly publication, the legislature’s tinkering will have unintended consequences. As just one example, the current version of the bill acts as an incentive for drivers to refuse testing, which is something that State undoubtedly wants to avoid.

Attorney Mike Bryant, a fellow blogger, brought up other interesting questions earlier this week, including:                   

                        -How well do these ignition interlock devices actually work?

-Who gets these government contracts? As Mike writes, “It can be a nice money making monopoly for some companies.”

I will be watching this issue very closely, including how other states have handled the problems that go hand in hand with ignition interlock. But for now, I agree with Minnesota Lawyer reporter Patrick Thornton, “Come this summer, DWI defense lawyers are going to be busy.”

DWI Urine Testing Under Review by Supreme Court.

We were probably the first attorneys in Minnesota to start bringing Frye-Mack challenges against the practice of using urine tests to prosecute drivers for DWI.  

Now, one of the first cases where we raised this argument has finally made its way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which just accepted review of our case, State v. Boeder.

This is part of a clear trend - the Minnesota Supreme Court seems ready and willing to address head-on the basic fact that scientists worldwide reject urine testing for DWI cases. Stay tuned . . . things are about to get even more interesting.


Not So Fast! Will Minnesota Supreme Court Stop the Flow of Unscientific DWI Urine Alcohol Tests?

Many believed challenges to DWI alcohol urine testing were finished last December after the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a series of decisions. Recent orders issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court, however, provide hope for those accused of DWI based on a urine test.

In State v. Edstrom – a case with a shaky and dubious procedural posture – the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s finding that DWI urine alcohol testing is generally accepted by the scientific community. 

The following week the court of appeals held in State v. Tanksley that the trial court erred by denying a Frye hearing in a urine test case, but – based on Edstrom – the court held the error harmless. The court also upheld the district court’s suppression of expert testimony challenging the validity, reliability and accuracy of the urine test result. 

Shortly thereafter the court of appeals again affirmed a trial court’s decision prohibiting a driver from offering expert evidence on the reliability of urine testing to measure alcohol concentration in State v. Dixon. The court justified denying the driver his fundamental right to present a complete defense because, “Minnesota recognizes urine testing as a reliable method of measuring alcohol concentration.” 

Minnesota Supreme Court Grants Review.

Last month the Minnesota Supreme Court accepted review of State v. Tanksley and State v. Dixon (the parties in Edstrom did not seek review; it appears that had they done so, it likely would have been granted).

In its order granting review of Dixon, the Supreme Court provided insight on at least one of the issues that it felt required review:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the petition of Matt Dixon, Jr., for further review be, and the same is, granted on the issue concerning exclusion of defense evidence challenging the reliability of urine testing, and all proceedings are stayed pending final disposition in State v. Tanksley, No. A10-392. The petition is denied on all remaining issues.

Judges across the state have denied drivers the right to tell the whole story to a jury: that urine testing is junk science. With the Minnesota Supreme Court reviewing the issue on appeal, we hope that will change.

EtG Urine Tests: Not as Solid as We're Supposed to Believe

We blogged previously about the new “cutting edge” type of urine test - the EtG urine test. This new type of testing is primarily used for probation violations (where the person is expected to entirely abstain from alcohol) whereas the more traditional form of urine test is used for both violating probationers and prosecuting drivers. One thing both types of urine test have in common is that government scientists don’t approve of their use in criminal cases.

DWI urine tests are not generally accepted by the scientific community, but the Minnesota BCA continues to use them. Now, the US health department's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has issued its second report in five years calling the EtG test "inappropriate" and "scientifically unsupportable,” yet there is no doubt that Minnesota will continue to use this test to incarcerate its citizens.

If you are on probation, or have a “B-card” restriction on your driver’s license, be warned that the use of hand sanitizers or the consumption of sauerkraut may ultimately provide the State with enough evidence to put you in jail.

"Minnesota DWI Urine Testing: A Fluid Body of Law"

Chuck Ramsay is speaking this Friday, February 18, 2011 at the Hennepin County Bar Association. 

See Chuck’s cutting edge presentation, “Minnesota DWI Urine Testing: A Fluid Body of Law.”

Urine Test Concerns: EtG, the Little Enzyme That Couldn't

We’ve previously blogged about the serious problems that arise when the government tries to enforce its DWI laws with urine testing. Despite these known problems, Minnesota continues to use discredited urine tests. Now, they are starting to take things one step further - using a new, error-prone method of analyzing urine samples to “prove” that someone recently consumed alcohol.

The science behind this post is a little complicated, but the results are easy to explain: scientists are claiming that they can test a urine sample for the presence of ethyl glucuronide (EtG), which is basically a “byproduct” of alcohol consumption - a byproduct that can be detected days after someone consumed any alcohol.

Probation officers and prosecutors alike love this new type of urine test- most people on probation are specifically ordered to abstain from alcohol, and any consumed alcohol has usually left the system before someone can be brought in for a random urinalysis test. With these new tests for EtG, the government can find out if someone drank alcohol three days ago, instead of only three hours ago.

Sounds fair, right? WRONG. We’ve noticed more and more EtG tests being used and spent a great deal of time studying the science behind the testing. We have discovered just how unreliable these tests are. If someone “fails” a test for EtG, it may mean that they consumed alcohol sometime in the previous few days . . . but it can also mean that they used a common hand-sanitizer sometime in the previous few days. Non-alcoholic beer and mouthwash can cause false positive results. So can consuming bananas. Even sauerkraut can generate EtG in a urine sample.

The message is clear: if you’re prohibited from consuming alcohol as a condition of probation, be sure to avoid sauerkraut and bananas. The State has a new test they may ask you to perform, and your craving for fruit and cabbage may end up putting you behind bars.

While a negative Etg test is conclusive proof that a person did not recently consume alcohol, it does not follow that a positive is conclusive proof that a person did recently consume alcohol.

Refusing to Submit to a Blood Test Not Always a Crime In Minnesota

Minnesota is one of few states that actually make it a crime to refuse to submit to chemical testing (most simply to increase the duration of any driver’s license revocation). This has huge constitutional implications - such as violating a driver’s Fifth Amendment right against Self-Incrimination - but can also be misleading.

Despite what every Minnesota police officer will tell you, it may NOT be a crime to refuse to submit to a blood test after you’ve been arrested for DWI.

In fact, if you do refuse to submit to a blood test, and the government charges you with test refusal, we might actually be able to get the charges dismissed. That’s because Minnesota law specifically prohibits drivers from being punished for refusing to submit to a blood or urine test unless another test was also offered.

If an arresting officer told you that you’d be charged with test refusal if you did not submit to a blood sample, he or she was not telling you the whole story. If you were charged with test refusal without being offered a blood test AND either a urine or breath test, you’ve got a very good chance of outright winning your case.

The Dangers of Dicta: Getting Pissed on for the Holidays

The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a decision this week dealing with urine testing, an issue we’ve blogged about extensively. In State v. Edstrom, the Court said (in dicta) that first void urine testing is generally accepted by forensic toxicologists as a valid measurement for per se intoxication.

Even a casual review of the case, however, demonstrates that this decision carries no real weight. The issues raised in this appeal did not involve “general acceptance” of the urine test (known as the Frye-Mack test); the issue was whether the lower court improperly suppressed the urine test as being “unduly prejudicial” (a standard rule of evidence that is not specific to scientific tests, like Frey-Mack).

Despite the fact that the Frye issue wasn’t even presented or briefed, the court took a walk in the woods and addressed whether evaluation of a urine sample with gas chromatography is generally accepted by the scientific community. Here’s the thing - it is. In fact, in the dozens of cases we have pending around the state we waived the issue of whether the evaluation is generally accepted. Instead, we require the state to meet its burden to demonstrate that the administration of the test is generally accepted.

Because the issue wasn’t properly raised in the lower court, the Edstrom court completely failed to understand the actual issue. The issue, of course, is that every forensic test has two separate but equal components - the collection of the forensic sample, and the subsequent analysis of that forensic sample (as the saying goes, “garbage in = garbage out”). While the Edstrom Court went out of its way to try and rule on an issue that it was not asked to address, it did not even address the full issue in this decision.

It is Minnesota’s method of collecting urine samples that render the results unscientific, not the subsequent analysis. Imagine if every DWI blood draw performed in Minnesota was done after the nurse had used an alcohol swab on the donor’s arm. Would you trust the analysis of any of those samples? Of course not - it’d be downright stupid to do so (especially when its almost as easy to use a non-alcohol swab instead). What’s outrageous is that first void urine testing is a far worse method of sample collection than our alcohol swab example. And that’s not my opinion - that’s the opinion of almost every single peer-reviewed article in existence, alongside the institutional opinions of SOFT, the NRC, NHTSA, and the Borkenstein Institute.

The entire basis for the Court’s determination that first-void urine testing passes the Frye test was one incredibly illogical sentence: “And there is no evidence to suggest that gas headspace chromatography is any less accepted by the scientific community when it is used on a first-void, as opposed to a later-void, urine sample.” Edstrom, page 10.

When we hold a Frye-Mack hearing, we present volumes of evidence that directly contract the above cited one-liner. In fact, no fewer than four major, renowned scientific bodies have made it clear that first void urine testing should not be used to determine a per se level of impairment:

All in all, the Edstrom decision stands for nothing unique, and the holding simply places a rubber stamp on something we already agree about - gas headspace chromatography is a great way to analyze fluid samples. We’ve held numerous Frye hearings where we have made it crystal clear that we are challenging the collection, not the analysis, of the urine samples in question, and despite the holding in Edstrom,we plan on holding even more hearings in the future. We’ll continue to do everything within our power to demonstrate why every forensic scientist (except those employed by the State of Minnesota) reject urine testing.

Part 3- Adding Insult to Injury: Bypassing Minnesota's DWI Bail Statute.

In this final chapter in our three part series regarding bail, we’re going to debunk the common myth that Minnesota judges are required by law to set bail in DWI cases. We’ve already explained what you need to consider when you’re ordered to post bail, and analyzed why Minnesota’s bail statute is largely unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, few judges are willing to put their own necks on the line and completely ignore Minnesota’s DWI bail laws. However, many judges will listen to (and agree with) the argument that the bail statute itself does not even apply to many DWI defendants. I’ve used this argument many times in a situation where the court was going to charge my client $12,000 bail, and instead chose to release him or her without requiring any bail.

The DWI maximum bail statute defines when maximum bail is required. It supposedly requires maximum bail ($12,000) in all cases where a defendant is charged with second degree DWI (a DWI with two aggravating factors), whenever a test result reports an alcohol concentration at or above .20, or whenever someone under the age of 16 is in the vehicle. Other situations are also covered, such as when someone under the age of 19 is charged with third degree DWI, or when someone was caught driving with a canceled driver’s license.

The statute supposedly “requires” that anyone charged with a DWI under these situations be arrested immediately, and held until their first court appearance. This is the key - the requirement that these offenders be both arrested and held in custody. Put another way, if the officer does not have an offender held in custody until their first court appearance, the maximum bail statute, by its own terms, does not apply.

This situation comes into play all the time, especially in blood or urine test cases. These tests typically take at least a month to complete, so there is rarely a basis to hold someone in custody until their first court appearance. What happens instead is that the person is notified, a month or more after their arrest, that their test result came back above the legal limit. Then, overzealous prosecutors issue an arrest warrant, and expect people to post $12,000 bail long after they had already been released from custody!

It sounds absurd, but it happens, it happens regularly, and it happens in situations where defense attorneys should know better. Time and time again potential clients call our office, upset that they were forced to post thousands of dollars in bail after they had already been released from custody. It’s frustrating, because if we had been involved earlier, we likely could have prevented any bail from being ordered at all. All it takes is a careful argument to the judge, explaining why the maximum bail statute doesn’t cover situations where someone has already been released from custody!

If you’ve been arrested for DWI, and are awaiting the results of a blood or urine test, you need an attorney before, not after, the test results come back. Waiting will often be an expensive mistake - and a mistake that, with a little legal experience, can be completely avoided.

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DWI Urine Sample Re-test: Judge Tosses Government's Alcohol Results


Earlier this year our series “Freedom Through Independence” told of the benefits of re-testing the state’s alcohol samples in DWI cases.

Part 1: Crises in Our Nation’s Forensic Science System

Part 2: Erroneous DWI Blood Test Results

Part 3: Erroneous DWI Urine Test Results

Part 4: Erroneous DWI Intoxilyzer 5000 Breath Test Results

Our “Freedom Through Independence” series chronicled our ability to use retested samples to win DWI cases for our clients. Since then, the government has repeatedly thrown in the towel and dismissed our DWI cases whenever our retest has contradicted the state’s alcohol test result. After publishing our blog series, more and more lawyers followed our advice and began retesting DWI blood and urine samples. 

As a result, the state faced many more cases where the state’s DWI test results were contested, forcing the government to change its tactics. Now, the government is actually trying to fight back in cases where our independent retest refutes the state’s own test. 

The Judge Rules: Two Different Test Results = State Loss

The state is now finding out the hard way that if they try to fight against retested samples, the end result is no different than if it had just dismissed its case from the outset. Last week a judge rendered the first written decision in years on this issue, and clearly held that if a retested sample produces different results than the state’s test, the state is going to lose.

In that case, the driver submitted to a urine sample after being arrested for DWI. The officer collected the sample, and submitted it to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension ("BCA") for analysis. The BCA’s analysis resulted in an alcohol concentration of 0.08. 

Several months after the BCA performed its analysis, the driver’s frozen sample was independently analyzed by Regions Hospital. Regions Hospital’s analysis resulted in an alcohol concentration of .06. The difference between .08 and .06 is huge, for two reasons. First, a difference of .02 between the samples proves that urine testing fails one of the main tenets of the scientific method: the ability to consistently reproduce statistically reliable results. Second, one test is above the legal limit, while the other is clearly below that limit.

A nervous BCA employee testified, offering several possible explanations for the dramatically different test results:

1)            A difference in testing methods between the BCA and Regions Hospital (The BCA does not contest Regions Hospital’s independent lab results, and in fact has approved its methods and procedures for testing urine for alcohol concentration.) 

2)            Evidence was destroyed when the BCA froze the urine sample after testing; and/or,

3)            An improper seal on the sample container permitted ethanol to escape the container.

All these “explanations” make the BCA look bad, but the driver’s attorney noted a fourth, even more troubling possibility; that the analysis performed by the BCA was inaccurate and the analysis performed by Regions Hospital was accurate.

The judge wrote in his order:

In this case the Court has been presented with two equally valid samples with disparate results. One result supports the revocation of the Petitioner's license while the other does not.

The Commissioner, however, bears the burden of proving it is more likely than not that the Petitioner was operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The evidence presented is not sufficient to overcome this burden. It is equally possible the Petitioner had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or 0.06767. The Commissioner has therefore failed to prove the requisite alcohol concentration justifying revocation of the Petitioner's license.

The judge correctly ordered the government reinstate the driver’s license and remove any reference to the license revocation from his driving record. 

More Questions:

This case raises as many questions as it answers. Had this been a criminal case, what would a jury have decided? We think that a court should not even permit the state to present this evidence to a jury, since no reasonable juror could find the state could meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

This raises other questions as well, such as “how long will the BCA continue to freeze DWI test samples after testing?” “What are the differences between the BCA and Regions’ testing methods?” and “Whose testing method is more accurate?”

And of course, all of these questions lead directly to the one question I’ve been asking for years. It’s a simple question, and yet it has gone unanswered for far too long.  

Why does our state remain as one of the only places in the world that still use urine testing?

Congratulations to defense attorney, Ed Cohen, for his work against the Office of the Attorney General in the implied consent case.


DWI Urine Testing Being Flushed Down the Toilet: Minnesota Supreme Court Wipes Up State's Remaining Argument in Favor of Urine Testing.

I’ve blogged about the unscientific nature of DWI urine testing for years and years. Being at the forefront of defense challenges to urine testing has brought numerous successes for our clients, but we’ve never had a Minnesota Appellate court rule with finality that urine tests are inadmissible. Change is in the air, however, and the ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday will likely change our position for the better.

DWI Urine Testing: Rejected by Scientists

The primary issue with urine tests is that the scientific community simply does not accept urine testing in DWI cases as a valid means of determining alcohol concentration. Most states don’t use it at all. Fewer than a dozen periodically use the method, but don’t test the “first void.” It appears Minnesota stands alone as the only state to utilize solely “first void” testing.

A brief refresher for those new to our blog: Alcohol collects in the bladder and does not “burn off” like alcohol in the blood or breath. Instead, it remains in the bladder until voided. Without voiding the bladder and waiting 20-30 minutes before collecting a “second void,” there is no relationship between the amount of alcohol in the urine and the amount of alcohol in the blood. In fact, Minnesota BCA scientists concede that under “first void” testing, a person may have no alcohol in the blood, but be over the legal limit by urine.

Frye-Mack Standard

Under Minnesota law, before a scientific method or test can be admitted as evidence, a judge must find it to be “generally accepted by the relevant scientific community.” The Minnesota Supreme Court held in 2002 (State v. Roman Nose) that trial courts must grant motions for a Frye hearing unless and until the Supreme Court upholds a lower court finding of general acceptance for the specific scientific testing or method (for those unfamiliar with the Frye-Mack standard, check out our previous post).

We continually present scholarly articles, learned treatises and expert opinion from forensic toxicologists proving that urine testing is not “generally accepted in the scientific community.” If the judge listens to the evidence, this can and will lead to suppression of the test result. However, because the State has no real evidence supporting the use of urine tests, they use a different argument altogether - they try to claim that the Frye-Mack “general acceptance” test doesn’t even apply to urine tests, so there is no need to even prove general acceptance. Since urine testing for alcohol concentration was implemented nearly a century ago, many courts have rejected our motion for a Frye hearing simply because they believed that urine testing is not a “novel” test, and doesn’t need to be scrutinized. That’s about to change . . .

Minnesota Supreme Court Clarifies When Courts are Required to hold Frye Hearings

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an opinion yesterday that rejected the State’s “it’s not novel science if it’s old science” argument this week in State v. Hull.

In State v. Hull, the jury found Jeremy Hull guilty of murder. Before the trial, the defense challenged whether fingerprint evidence and handwriting analysis was admissible under the Frye “general acceptance” standard. The trial court refused to hold a Frye-Mack hearing on the scientific validity of the fingerprint evidence, concluding (without reviewing any evidence) that “fingerprints have been generally accepted as scientifically reliable for a long time.” Similarly, it denied the motion on the handwriting analysis by summarily finding, it too, is generally accepted, again without a hearing.

Analyzing whether the trial court correctly rejected a defense motion for a Frye hearing of fingerprint evidence, Justice Paul Anderson wrote,

“[L]engthy use of a method by law enforcement, and even lengthy unquestioning acceptance by courts, does not [by itself] exempt expert evidence from scrutiny under the first prong of Frye-Mack….”

Justice Anderson also cited with approval a report issued by the National Research Counsel of the National Academies (NRC), which stated, “In a number of forensic science disciplines, forensic science professionals have yet to establish either the validity of their approach or the accuracy of their conclusions, and the courts have been utterly ineffective in addressing this problem.”                          

Justice Meyer filed a concurring opinion, “because [precisely defining the Frye-Mack standard] has wide-ranging implications for future cases, we do a disservice to district courts and the administration of criminal justice in this state by declining to decide the issue on its merits” (she said this because the majority refused to actually state a rule, holding that the evidence against Hull was so overwhelming so as to make the issue irrelevant).

Justice Meyer went on to state, “The NRC Report states in no uncertain terms that the state and federal courts’ longstanding acceptance of traditional forensic science expert opinions is simply not supported by good science.”

She concluded by noting that, “in order to present expert conclusions based on these methods to a jury, the proponent of the evidence must first meet its burden under the first prong of Frye-Mack to show that its forensic evidence methods produce accurate and reliable results. The district court erred in this case when it relieved the State of that burden.” (Emphasis added).

“But We’ve Always Done It That Way” Falls Short

The Court’s message is crystal clear: The State can no longer rely on the “long-standing use” of a scientific method to prevent a Frye hearing. Longevity alone is insufficient; the State can’t be permitted to “grandfather” junk science past the rigorous safeguards of the Frye-Mack test. Instead, the Supreme Court has again made it clear that the government must prove in a Frye hearing that a test if generally accepted by the relevant scientific community.

So how does this affect urine testing? Many courts have succumbed to prosecutors’ argument, “But we’ve always done it that way” in denying motions for a Frye hearing. Thanks to the Hull case, I’m hoping this will also bring an end to another government adage, “Good enough for government work” which has allowed urine testing to be used against innocent citizens for years.


"Urge to Purge": The Minnesota BCA's Attempt to use New Junk Science to Support DWI Urine Testing.

Urine testing has no place in determining whether or not a state’s DWI laws have been violated. Despite near universal rejection of urine specimens for DWI enforcement, the folks at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) stand nearly alone in continuing to use this junk science to put people behind bars.

Our firm has been at the forefront of the fight against urine tests, demonstrating again and again exactly why urine testing has no place when it comes to enforcing DWI laws. In every case we present decades of scholarly articles and learned treatises rejecting urine testing. 

Because of our success, the BCA has come up with some new “evidence” in an effort to build support for DWI urine testing in Minnesota. Last week the state presented a single piece of paper drafted by one BCA scientist that we’ve lovingly dubbed the “Urge to Purge” memorandum. This memorandum attempts to overcome the obvious fact that when you are given a urine test, the sample demonstrates a “pooled” or average alcohol concentration, and not your actual alcohol concentration from the time you were driving. Basically, a urine test can report – at best – an average alcohol concentration since the subject had last voided his or her bladder.

The “Urge to Purge” memorandum tries to imply that the diuretic effect of alcohol (the well-known fact that drinking makes you have to pee) means that anyone who is drinking is also peeing non-stop, and so any urine sample will be “accurate enough.” What the data doesn’t take into account is simple science; specifically, the well-documented fact that the alcohol only has a diuretic effect during the absorptive phase of alcohol (which stops about an hour after drinking) and not during the post-adsorptive phase (after the alcohol has been fully absorbed).

It appears the state seeks to use their new “science” to refute the well-founded legal position that the police need a search warrant to force a urine test. Because alcohol doesn’t dissipate in the bladder, there is no immediate need to obtain a sample, as in the case of breath tests. The state’s “urge to purge” memorandum implies that a person will wet their pants before a cop can get a warrant. There is no science to back up the state’s claim.

To make a long-story short, the “Urge to Purge” memorandum that the BCA is now touting is about as relevant to urine testing as a chart explaining how blondes have more fun. It just doesn’t matter.

Hopefully - someday - the BCA will learn not to support junk science with more junk science. Until that day comes, we’ll be here, continuing to attack this flawed test in the courtroom.

Minnesota Supreme Court Holding: Ongoing Constitutional Vitality of DWI Test Refusal Law Now in Question

The Chief Justice for the Supreme Court penned an incredibly articulate and devastating attack against Minnesota’s test refusal law today. In the case of State v. Larson, the Court held that:

"Larson also argues that his due process right to a fair trial was violated because the State was allowed to introduce evidence that he had refused to submit to voluntary . . . testing, and that the State used his refusal as evidence of his guilt. It is uncontested that Larson refused to allow the police to take a . . . sample . . . until the police produced a warrant. At trial, the district court ruled, over Larson’s objection, that Larson’s refusal to submit voluntarily to . . . testing could come before the jury. The court acknowledged that, while Larson “had that right to refuse to cooperate,” he did not see that “any constitutional rights of [Larson’s] are violated by that fact being told to the jury.” This ruling was erroneous. See Jones, 753 N.W.2d at 687 (“It is a violation of the defendant’s right to due process for a prosecutor to comment on a defendant’s failure to consent to a warrantless search.”)." (Emphasis added)

I’ve never read a more damning attack against Minnesota’s DWI test refusal law.

There is one problem: the above quote doesn’t refer to blood, urine, or breath samples for alcohol concentration - it refers to blood samples for DNA testing. Thus, the legal conclusion that our current test refusal law is unconstitutional can be craftily avoided by simply invoking the DWI exception to the Constitution.

We’ll be bringing the Larson case to the attention of every judge that is presiding over a test refusal case, and it will be very, very interesting to see how they can “distinguish” (legalese for “ignore) this case from the line of cases mysteriously holding that charging someone for test refusal is constitutional.


If You Are Charged With Test Refusal, FIGHT IT!

The common perception among the public is that “you can’t beat a DWI.” We’ve proved that bit of conventional wisdom as dead wrong, time and time again. However, it’s just as frustrating to hear someone claim that they were charged with “test refusal” and that it’s all but impossible to win a test refusal case. The average attorney might not be able to win a test refusal case, but we’re not average attorneys.

Minnesota is one of only a few states that actually make test refusal a crime. So how do you win a test refusal case? We win by knowing the law, knowing your rights and through experience. We recently convinced an Aitkin county judge to dismiss the test refusal charges against our client, and we did it by following these three simple steps.

Know the Law: Minnesota’s Implied Consent Law and criminal test refusal law are confusing and counterintuitive to all but the most experienced attorneys. The average person would be surprised at how many defenses are available to a person who just said “no” when the State attempted to coerce them into submitting to a chemical test.

For example, an officer needs probable cause to arrest you before they can even properly demand that you submit to testing - you can’t “refuse” a test that the police had no right to request. And while the police won’t tell you this, you actually have the RIGHT to refuse a urine or blood test - without consequences. If you refuse to submit to a blood test, the officer MUST offer you a urine test before you can be charged with refusal. In other words, unless you refuse both a urine and a blood test, you’re not guilty of test refusal.

Know your Rights: Everyone in Minnesota has the right to consult with an attorney before deciding whether or not to submit to a test. If your right to counsel is denied by the police, you can’t be found guilty of test refusal. You also have the right to “change your mind.” We’ve successfully defended clients in situations where the officer was too quick to claim that our client “refused,” when in reality our client was ready and willing to submit to testing, and was just nervous.

Rely on Experience: Experience and imagination can get test refusal cases thrown out of court as well. There are powerful arguments to be made that the refusal law violates the basic Constitutional right against self-incrimination, and that the statute itself is so vague and ambiguous (there is no actual, clear cut definition of “refusal” in the criminal context, and civil refusal is also loosely defined) so as to offend the Constitution. Likewise, the Implied Consent advisory that every Minnesota officer reads to every alleged drunk driver actually mis-informs those drivers about the consequences of refusal!

All of these legal strategies can and do result in the dismissal of criminal charges that resulted from an alleged “refusal to test.” If you’ve been charged with test refusal, don’t assume your case is hopeless. There are many defenses available to attorneys who know the law, know your rights, and have the experience to put that knowledge into practice.

Recent Successes at Ramsay Results - June 2010

Many people believe that it is impossible to beat a drunk driving criminal charge or the DWI driver’s license case. The public believes this for a number of reasons. 

First, ill informed police and prosecutors believe DWI science is beyond reproach. 

Second, attorneys who are ill prepared to handle complex DWI cases will often merely exacerbate the problem. In most cases they take their client’s money, then hold their hand as they plead them guilty. 

Finally, the personal guilt that many people feel when charged with DUI crimes can be overwhelming, even if they thought that they were okay to get behind the wheel. They either hire a “dump truck lawyer” or plead guilty. 

We’ve busted these DWI myths time after time. It takes hard work, dedication, and a heartfelt desire to vigorously defend our clients, but in the end, the effort pays off. Here’s a sampling of some of our more recent successes, accumulated over the last few weeks. These victories demonstrate our commitment to our clients and our never-ending crusade to debunk the myth that DWI’s are “unbeatable.”


“B Card Violation” – Judge Order Driver’s License Reinstated

The Department of Public Safety cancelled my client’s license to drive. They claimed that he was driving in violation of his restricted driver’s license (which prohibited him from consuming ANY alcohol while behind the wheel).

Our client was involved in an accident in Hennepin County. After reporting to the scene, the police officer claimed to smell an order of alcohol, said our client failed the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, and reported my client’s alcohol concentration was .06 on the preliminary breath test. 

Many attorneys believe such “B card” cases are impossible to win – after all, the government just has to prove that our client had a drink (not that he was impaired). Despite the common misconception that this type of case is unwinnable, we won! We challenged the DPS’ evidence in court and convinced the judge to overturn the license cancellation and reinstate my client’s driver’s license. 


DWI – Police Officer Coerced Driver’s “Consent” to take DWI alcohol test

In another case we challenged how the police officer obtained our client’s “consent” to a urine test. As we’ve blogged about before, we believe Minnesota’s implied consent law is unconstitutional as it unlawfully coerces all drivers to submit to DWI alcohol testing. 

The judge disagreed with our argument, and we lost at the district court level. That didn’t slow us down – we simply took the fight to the next level, and we appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. After we submitted our appellate memorandum, we received a stunning letter from the government – they would agree to give our client his license back (a victory) if we withdrew the appeal.   Thus, solely on the strength of our written memorandum (before we even had to argue the case in front of the appellate court) we won the case!


Prostitution Sting: Soliciting Prostitution – Case Dismissed

Our firm practices only criminal defense and related civil cases, e.g., automobile forfeitures. Although the majority of our case load is Minnesota DWI cases, we regularly represent people charged in other types of cases as well. 

In Ramsey County, our client was arrested as a result of a St. Paul Police prostitution sting. He was charged with Loitering with Intent to Solicit Prostitution. After we obtained the police reports, video & audio recordings, and other documents, we started pushing the government hard – and were able to obtain a complete dismissal of the charges.


Fifth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct – Case Dismissed

In another criminal case in Ramsey County, the government charged our client with Fifth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. We challenged the criminal charges and showed the prosecutor the weaknesses in its case. Again, they dismissed all of the criminal charges.


DWI – Bad Seizure– Judge Orders License Reinstated after Urine Test

In a Scott County case, our client was charged with a DWI after he was arrested and given a urine test. The results were .11, well over the legal limit. 

Through experience and a desire to fully defend our client, we were able to get the state to dismiss the DWI charges against our client. Shortly thereafter, we convinced the judge in the implied consent case to rule in our favor as well, and restore our client’s driver’s license. 

The end result of this “unbeatable” DWI charge? All criminal charges were dismissed, and our client’s driving record doesn’t even reflect being pulled over for a DWI offense.


DWI – Judge Grants Motion for Post-Conviction Hearing

A judge granted our motion for a post-conviction hearing in our efforts to get a new trial in a highly publicized case that we took to trial more than four years ago. In that case, our client was charged with “test refusal” on the Intoxilyzer 5000 because she was unable to provide an “adequate sample.” She begged for the chance to take another test, but wasn’t allowed to. Because we had not yet uncovered the critical flaw in the Intoxilyzer that causes such errors, the jury found our client guilty of test refusal.

Since that trial, our client’s conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and then reversed again by the Minnesota Supreme Court. 

Now, four years later, the trial court judge is granting us a new hearing based on the evidence we discovered concerning the faulty source code that runs Minnesota’s breath test machine, the Intoxilyzer 5000. The case is scheduled to be heard next month.


DWI – Judge Grants Motion for Unprecedented Access to the Source Code

In a civil license revocation case involving the same driver as above, a judge granted our motion for the source code to the Intoxilyzer 5000. However, this case is a good example of what can happen if you reach for the stars; we not only asked for the source code, but also demanded key pieces of source code information well beyond that which was provided in the federal court settlement last year. After listening to our arguments, the court granted our motion, further opening the door to prevent our client from being wrongfully charged as a “test refusal.” 


DWI – .19 Blood Test Dismissed

DWI – .19 Breath Test Dismissed (Source Code)

DWI – .10 Breath Test Dismissed (Source Code)


“Can’t Win ‘em All . . . But Can’t Win Any If You Don’t Try”

A prosecutor in Ramsey County did manage to hand us our first DWI trial loss in years, in a case where the judge admitted into evidence a .14 urine test result.   After careful consultation, our client decided that he wanted his case tried to a jury, despite the prejudicial test result. That jury ultimately found our client guilty.

Fortunately, the judge gave our client the exact same sentence he would have handed down had our client pled guilty without going to trial. As long as there is no disincentive to go to trial, we’ll do just that!


DWI –Just Reinstates License to Drive – Right to Counsel – .14 Breath Test

In a huge win in a difficult case, a Hennepin County judge ruled in our favor and reinstated our client’s driver’s license after an implied consent hearing (we had already beat the DWI charge on the criminal case). This was a difficult situation where our client was deaf, and had repeatedly begged the arresting officer for either an interpreter or the advice of a lawyer. Although the officer did make some attempts to communicate with our client, he did not know American Sign Language, and the court agreed that her right to counsel was not vindicated. 

This is a huge win not only because our client got her driver’s license back, but because this case also resulted in the police department installing a TTY communication device, for hearing-impaired persons.


Finally, Chuck was named, “Geek of the week” by nationally renowned attorney, Justin McShane of Pennsylvania. The “Truth About Forensic Science”, McShane’s forensic blog, named Ramsay winner of his weekly forensic science quiz, aptly entitled, “Geek of the Week.”

Okay, so it is not a Nobel, but it's a good distraction for Chuck.

DWI Urine Update: Minnesota BCA Lab Confirms that Tri County Urine Tests Are Flawed

 If you follow our blog, you noticed that we recently exposed the fact that the State was charging drivers with DWIs based upon incorrect urine test results. It now appears that this error was due to a systematic failure to implement proper procedures. Simply put, the lab wasn’t performing a routine calculation on its urine samples to ensure that the results were being properly reported.

Here is the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's carefully-worded explanation of this error.  It can also be read below.

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
1430 Maryland Avenue E., St. Paul, Minnesota 55106
Phone: 651/793-7000 FAX: 651/793-7001 TTY: 651/282-6555

July 1, 2010

Sgt. Steven Johnson
Anoka County Sheriff’s Office
Tri County Regional Forensic Laboratory
325 East Main Street
Anoka, MN 55303-2489

Re: Summary of an onsite visit to Tri County Regional Forensic Laboratory

Anoka – Sherburne – Wright Counties

BCA Forensic Scientists Dr. Edward Stern and Brent Nelson visited the Tri County Regional Forensic Laboratory located at 13301 Hanson Blvd NW in Andover, MN. The laboratory requested an outside assessment of their alcohol-testing program after a client raised a concern about urine alcohol results. Mr. Nelson and Dr. Stern met with Lieutenant Steve Johnson, Crime Laboratory Director, in the presence of Sergeant Andy Knotz, Quality Assurance Manager, Lead Forensic Scientist Steve Banning, and Forensic Scientist Miranda Thurmer.

Lt. Johnson advised that there was a concern by one of their clients regarding the reported alcohol result and the alcohol results obtained via preliminary breath test results (PBT). While there are explainable situations that would lead to discrepancies with a PBT result conducted roadside versus the evidential test performed such as mouth alcohol effects, possible slight matrix differences, calibration of the PBTs, as well as the time the tests were conducted, the concern raised by the client was taken very seriously. Testing and reporting of the alcohol results was suspended while the root cause of the discrepancies was investigated. This investigation in part consisted of an inquiry to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in regards to reporting parameters for alcohol results. It was initially thought the discrepancy involved the application of a conversion factor to convert the results that were obtained in a concentration of grams per 100 milliliters (g/100mls) to the Minnesota statutory value for urines of grams per 67 milliliters (g/67mls).

Review of the of the Quality Control results obtained from the analytical runs from 10/8/09 to 6/23/10 demonstrated acceptable performance across the various analytical levels of 0.05 g/100ml to 0.20 g/100mls. The R- Squared values obtained for all the calibration curves during this time period also demonstrated acceptable values. Also reviewed was the external proficiency performance from the samples provided from the College of American Pathologists (CAP) as well as the CTS proficiency exams. These results all demonstrated this laboratory’s ability to quantify alcohol within the acceptable parameters in accordance with these proficiency tests.

Evidence of quality assurance was also demonstrated by the documentation and maintenance of instrument performance checks, instrument and temperature maintenance logs, as well as the certificates of analysis of the reference standards used demonstrating traceability.

Their Quality Manual was also reviewed in part and states in Section (pertaining to control of data, calculations and data checking) “Each laboratory section is responsible of developing and documenting procedures to ensure that the data is free from calculation errors and quality control measures are reviewed and evaluated before that data is reported.” A review was conducted on their current procedure entitled “Alcohols by Headspace Gas Chromatography” Version 1, November 2009. A draft revision, version 2, also reviewed, contains a new section entitled “Calculations” which defines the application of the conversion factor to convert the urine alcohol results obtained in the concentration units of grams per 100 mls to grams per 67 mls. This proposed change to the procedure should help ensure that the urine alcohol result is converted properly to the units of concentration in accordance with the current statute requirements. It should be noted that even though this laboratory is not currently accredited under ISO 17025 standards, it contains the components of the key elements regarding customer service and quality of results.

The procedure “Preparation of Whole Blood and Urine Controls- version 1, Jan. 2010.” was reviewed. This procedure defines the preparation of in house blood and urine controls. The procedure was found to be correct to produce the desired concentrations, however the urine control proportion resulted in a concentration expressed as grams per 100 mls not grams per 67 mls. It was recommended to either covert the expected value to grams per 67 mls or more appropriately change the procedure to target a urine alcohol of 0.08 grams per 67 mls.

The laboratory was challenged with three spiked urine alcohol specimens previously prepared and examined at the BCA Laboratory. These specimens were analyzed during the site visit and all produced acceptable results when the applicable conversion factor of 0.67 was applied.

The issue was that the urine alcohol results obtained in grams per 100 milliliters were not converted to grams per 67 milliliters in accordance with the statute. The documentation presented demonstrated this laboratory’s ability to quantify alcohol. It is recommended that amended reports be issued for the urine alcohol results conducted during this time period. The amended urine alcohol results that were obtained in grams per 100 milliliters must have the applicable conversion factor of 0.67 applied to the value obtained.

Staci A. Bennett
Toxicology Section Supervisor – BCA Laboratory
CC: Debra Springer – Assistant Laboratory Director

DWI Cases Reviewed After Botched Lab Results

DWI Urine Tests Results: Minnesota Lab Off by 50%


While recently working on one of our clients DWI cases, we noticed something interesting: the client’s urine sample hadn’t been tested at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, as is nearly every sample collected in Minnesota. Instead, the sample had been sent for analysis to the TriCounty Regional Forensics Laboratory in Anoka, Minnesota.

It didn’t take long to uncover a truly massive problem - this lab wasn’t reporting accurate test results. In fact, it was making huge mistakes.

As if there weren’t enough problems with urine testing, we discovered another error unique to this type of test. Under Minnesota law, a driver is per se intoxicated if either their blood alcohol concentration or their urine alcohol concentration is above .08. However, whenever a urine sample is tested, the final result needs to be multiplied by .67 to take into account the fact that alcohol levels are naturally higher in urine than in blood. (Therefore, if a urine test result comes back at a .11, the forensic lab must be multiply that by .67 to get the “actual” alcohol concentration, which would actually be .07!)

When the BCA reports a urine alcohol concentration, it automatically does this routine, elementary-school math before sending its results to the prosecutor. However, in this case TriCounty Regional Forensics Laboratory forgot to perform a simple math exercise, and reported our client’s alcohol concentration 50% higher than it should have been!

Because we constantly scrutinize all of the evidence that the State is bringing against our clients, we caught this error before it could permanently affect our client’s rights. However, seeing this mistake on one urine test makes us wonder . . . how many other urine tests were also reported incorrectly? How many people pled guilty to DWI based on a urine test that they just “assumed” was accurate?

The lesson to be learned? Never, ever fall for the myth that the scientists working for the State are infallible. Mistakes can and do happen - more often than anyone will admit - and not catching a mistake like this can mean the difference between an acquittal and going to jail.

Update: Download the pdf of the Crime Lab's Report of Urine Test Errors


How Can the State Charge You With Two DWIs For the Same Incident?

Anyone will be upset after being arrested for DWI. They are usually put in handcuffs, transported in the back of a squad car to a nearby (or not-so nearby) police station, and then told to submit a sample of blood (ouch) urine (embarrassing) or breath (inaccurate). After that, many are thrown in jail; others post as much as $12,000 in bail, while others need to find a ride home and a way to get their car out of an impound lot.

After this incident has robbed them of their dignity, many are then even more shocked to discover that they are being charged with not one crime, but two, based off of this arrest. While this seems illegal, it’s actually common, and a good defense attorney can work this to your advantage.

There are two types of DWI Crimes in Minnesota: 1) “driving while impaired” and 2) “per se intoxication.” There is only one real difference between these two crimes, and that is what type of evidence the State can use to prove guilt.

Driving while impaired means just that: the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were impaired by alcohol or drugs while you were driving. The type of evidence in this type of case ranges from performance on field sobriety tests to the arresting officer’s “opinion” of your level of impairment to the reason the police office stopped your vehicle. Note that for this type of offense, it’s not necessary to prove an alcohol concentration above a .08 - sometimes a driver’s alcohol test result isn’t even relevant.

Per se intoxication, on the other hand, doesn’t mean that a driver was a danger to anyone on the road. In fact, someone who is per se intoxicated might not even feel the effects of what they drank. Instead, per se intoxication just means that someone’s alcohol concentration was at or above .08, as measured anytime within two hours of driving. You can perform perfectly on a field sobriety test and enunciate every word flawlessly, and still be guilty of per se intoxication - if the State has a test result that “proves” you were above a .08.

Back in the day, the only offense drivers could be charged with was “driving while impaired.” These are the types of drivers that can be the most dangerous. However, in close cases, they are also the types of drivers that are hardest for a prosecutor to convict.

Because it can be hard to convict an otherwise safe driver of driving while impaired, the legislature chose to pass a per se law and create a level of alcohol concentration that automatically renders someone “drunk.” This use of “science” makes it far easier for prosecutors to get convictions. Obviously, any prosecutor would rather just flash a test result in front of a jury, say “this number is higher than .08," and get a conviction, than actually prove that someone was impaired!

Of course, these per se laws were both a blessing and a curse for prosecutors. A blessing, because now it’s so much easier to convict people who otherwise do not appear impaired - just look at the test result! However, it’s also a curse, because if they don’t have a test result to rely on, most prosecutors won’t even bother to litigate a driving while impaired case.

That’s where we come in: we often gear our defensive strategy towards getting that test result suppressed, which forces the prosecutor to try their case the “old fashioned” way. Whether that test result is an example of junk science, flawed logic, or the secretive workings of the incomprehensible Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test machine, if there is a way for us to get it suppressed, we will get it suppressed. And without a test result, the vast majority of prosecutors will lose interest in gaining a conviction, and seriously consider settlement or dismissal.

You can feel stone sober and still commit the crime of driving while per se intoxicated. Winning your case means hiring an attorney who knows every possible way to attack the State’s best evidence - a test result - and get it suppressed. If you’ve been charged with driving while impaired, driving while over a .08, or both, contact Ramsay Law Office as soon as possible. We’ll carefully explain the legal process to you and answer your questions.


DWI Breath Tests: Surreptitious Government, Secret Science & Stealthy Machines

Many people believe our government should have secrets, at least when it comes to our national security. But scientists agree that forensic testing should be open. Their formulas, procedures and test results must be reproducible in order to be good science. But government scientists and the companies that supply them disagree.

CMI, Inc. – Owensboro, Kentucky

CMI, the manufacturer of the Intoxilyzer 5000 and Intoxilyzer 8000, is holding its 26th Annual Meeting of the Intoxilyzers Users Group in Providence, Rhode Island on August 15-19, 2010. Although I own my own Intoxilyzer 5000 and am certified to operate the breath test machine, I am not permitted to attend.   CMI is guarding the program’s agenda, only saying “This conference promises to be an exciting one with many new things, courses, and information to share.”

CMI is notorious for its secretiveness. It has shunned its customers – numerous states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota – by refusing to provide access to the software that runs its breath test machines. Only after we obtained a federal court order, was CMI forced to permit us access to its source code. (Our experts are currently in Kentucky at CMI’s headquarters examining the Intoxilyzer 5000 software).

Intoximeters, Inc. – St. Louis, Missouri

Intoximeters, another breath testing company which produces the EC/IR II and the alco-sensor, also conceals the science behind its breath test machine. It is holding its 2010 Users Group Meeting in its home town September 12-15, 2010. Intoximeters program will include the “’Thomas Workman’ Update” and “Source Code Challenges”. Apparently it felt it was being to open, however, as it recently revised its program omitting the above and instead chose the more generic “Legal Challenges.”

It, too, however, will not permit me or defense experts to attend.

Minnesota County Attorneys Association – St. Paul, Minnesota

Under our government’s leadership, it’s not surprising breath test manufacturers are so secretive about their breath test machines, the science they use and the software that runs their machines. The Minnesota County Attorneys Association (MCAA) is one of those organizations that perpetuates the covert treatment of DWI law enforcement. 

The MCAA describes itself on its internet page:

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association is an independent, voluntary organization of County Attorneys dedicated to improving the quality of justice in the State of Minnesota. The Association is a not-for-profit corporation governed by a Board of Directors elected annually by the membership.

The members of the Association are dedicated to the accomplishment of this Mission by developing consensus on legal and public policy issues of statewide significance to County Attorneys. The Mission will be implemented competently and professionally while adhering to the highest ethical standards of the legal profession.

The MCAA closely follows my work. On its home page, it tracks my issues including the consolidated source code case, urine testing cases (see “Matthys Order”), and obtains transcripts (see “Implied Consent Transcript Bank”) of my expert witnesses and case issues. It will not give me access to its indexed transcript data base.

MCAA’s clandestine treatment of DWIs is particularly troubling. Its annual DWI Program includes:

  • Initial contact, probable cause and preconditions to a test request
  • Testing and refusal issues
  • Right to counsel and additional testing issues
  • Tips from judges and prosecutors on how to proceed with your case  
  • The impact of administrative rules

The program, entitled “Impaired Driving: New Laws, New Issues, New Decisions” will be held June 25, 2010 at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul.

To help satiate my thirst for knowledge, I thought it would be beneficial to attend. I registered and paid my fee. However, the MCAA told me that defense lawyers are not welcome at the continuing education seminar.

I was surprised given the fact that it advertised one of courses would include “Tips from judges … on how to proceed with your case.” I wonder which judges will present the (secret) tips and if they know the MCAA is precluding defense lawyers from hearing the inside information?

Should your government keep secrets? Maybe when it comes to matters of national security. But not when it comes to “science” that puts innocent people behind bars. 

How Do I Beat a DWI? Is It Even Worth Fighting?

Almost every client that calls us for legal advice and representation will ask it at some point. Most clients who retain us will hear the question from their friends and family. The government and the media have done a great job of making the “science” of DWI prosecutions seem unbeatable.

Which always begs the question: is it even possible to beat a DWI charge?

The answer, our answer, and the correct answer, is always “YES!”

A good criminal defense attorney will help guide anyone through the hoops, traps and pitfalls that make up our complex DWI laws. A great defense attorney will have a proven track record to demonstrate their ability and desire to make sure that you get the best effort and the best outcome possible. But the truly top-notch defense attorneys are the ones who understand that the “science” surrounding DWI prosecutions is little more than smoke and mirrors - and like any illusion, once you see the “science” for what it really is, your attorney is in the best position to reveal how shaky the State’s case really is.

A recent situation that arose in Colorado highlights the fact that any test - blood, breath, or urine - can successfully be challenged in court by top-notch attorney. In Colorado, over 200 blood tests were found to have been horribly botched - some tests reported a blood alcohol concentration 40% higher than the actual concentration should have been! Everyone here at Ramsay Law Office shuddered a little bit at that statistic, but what really gets to us is that the crime lab still can’t explain how so many tests came back with such inaccurate results.

Many people convince themselves that, “if the State’s test says I was over the legal limit, I must have been over the legal limit.” I’m sure that the vast majority of all of the improperly analyzed samples in Colorado went unchallenged in court. And that is the only real way to lose a DWI case - to not examine the evidence, to take the State’s word at face value.

At Ramsay Law Office, we’ve won many “unbeatable” cases, and we’ve done it by staying current with the scientific literature and never taking the State’s evidence at face value. If you’ve been charged with a DWI, and the State has a blood, breath, or urine test up their sleeve, don’t buy into the hype. Contact Ramsay Law Office - we don’t buy into the hype either. We get results.

Destruction of Evidence: A Post Script to Our Freedom through Independence Blog Series.

Last week we published our blog series demonstrating how independent testing and independent analysis of the state’s blood and urine samples may help drivers beat DWI urine or DUI blood tests. After we concluded the series, we ran into an interesting wrinkle when we sought to have two urine samples independently analyzed. 

The prosecutor informed us the government had destroyed the urine samples!

I believe the state has a duty to retain such critical evidence until the case has concluded. It should not destroy any blood or urine test samples unless and until the driver has actual knowledge the state intends to destroy the sample and waives the right to examination.

In response, we amended our motions to suppress admission of the test results and to dismiss the DWI charges. We filed the following motions:

1)            Dismissing the Complaint based on the State’s destruction of the evidence.  Specifically, admission of the urine test report violates Defendant’s constitutional rights to Confrontation, pursuant to Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S. Ct. 1354 (2004), because the state intentionally destroyed the evidence, thereby denying Defendant the opportunity to independently inspect, evaluate and test his alleged urine sample;

2)         Dismissing the Complaint based on the State’s destruction of the evidence.  Specifically, admission of the urine test report violates Defendant’s constitutional rights to Due Process, pursuant to California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 104 S. Ct. 2528 (1984), because the state intentionally destroyed the evidence, thereby denying Defendant the opportunity to independently inspect, evaluate and test his alleged blood sample;

3)         The State has violated the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Defendant’s Due Process rights by failing to provide Defendant with his blood sample as part of his requested discovery;

4)         The law of spoilation of evidence is inconsistent with the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and cannot be applied in light of the rights of Defendant to Due Process and Confrontation; and

5)          Dismissing the charges against Defendant as the State’s destruction of Defendant’s urine sample impermissibly shifts the burden of persuasion onto Defendant for a key element of the offenses with which he is charged.

A judge had previously ruled in our favor when presented with these issues. In a DWI case we brought to jury last July, the judge had ordered the blood test suppressed because the state had destroyed the blood sample. We had challenged admissibility based our client’s right to confrontation, among other things. 

In his order, the judge explained why due process required him to suppress the state’s evidence:

Due process requires that a criminal defendant have the same access to information as the State when the State offers the result of a scientific test. The State did not give Defendant an opportunity to stop destruction of this evidence. If the State offers into evidence the blood-test report, the State must also call the person who prepared the blood-test report, and a person who can testify as to the chain of custody. Without access to the blood sample, Sickmann is denied the right granted in the rules of discovery to reproduce the state's test results. The reproducibility of scientific test results is an important factor when considering the reliability of the test results.

The judge also explained why the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause requires suppression:

The BCA's policy of destroying the blood or urine sample, therefore, eliminates [Defendant]'s ability to reproduce the blood test results and limits the methods available to him to challenge the reliability of those results. The scope of the [Defendant]'s cross-examination of the witnesses who prepared the test report is unconstitutionally limited.

The Sixth Amendment's guarantee that an accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted by his accusers is vindicated only upon effective and adequate cross-examination of those witnesses. The BCA's policy of destroying the blood sample after a predetermined period of time renders [Defendant]'s opportunity to cross-examine the state's witnesses inadequate and ineffective. Because [Defendant]'s cross-examination of the witnesses who prepared the blood test report is inadequate and ineffective in light of his inability to reproduce the results, his rights under the Confrontation Clause are violated and this violation precludes admission of the blood test report.

Accordingly, this Court must conclude that at subsequent trial of this matter, the blood test report of the BCA is inadmissible.

We will see if other judges understand the constitution as Judge A.P.

Check out our other postings on this issue.

Part 1: Freedom through Independence: Crises in Our Nation’s Forensic Science System

Part 2: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Blood Test Results

Part 3: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Urine Test Results

Part 4: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Intoxilyzer 5000 Breath Test Results


MSCJ - DWI Continuing Legal Education



The Premier Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyers Organization Representing Those Charged with DWI

The DWI Defense Seminar for Minnesota

FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2010


To enroll: Download the MSCJ DWI CLE Brochure




Session Title


8:30 a.m.


Registration and Welcome.................................................

Richard Koch

9:00 a.m.


Opening Statements in a DWI Trial..................................

Rick Mattox

9:30 a.m.


Case law Update 2009-10...................................................

Faison Sessoms

10:15 a.m.


Morning Break.....................................................................

10:30 a.m.


Legislative Update..............................................................

Max Keller

11:15 a.m.


Closing Arguments in a DWI Trial....................................

Charles Ramsay

12:00 p.m.


LUNCH (provided)..............................................................

1:00 p.m.


Pretrial Release Issues.......................................................

Thomas Jakway

1:30 p.m.


Pretrial Motions...................................................................

Douglas Hazelton

2:00 p.m.


The Client as a Witness......................................................

Peter Timmons

2:30 p.m.




2:45 p.m.


Source Code Update..........................................................

Marsh Halberg and Lee Orwig

3:30 p.m.


Standard Field Sobriety Test Cross Examination..........

Jeffrey Sheridan

4:00 p.m.


Challenging Urine Tests....................................................

Jeffrey Ring

4:30 p.m.


Happy Hour..........................................................................


Materials will be on CD only, attendees are encouraged to bring their laptop computers. 

10715 South Shore Drive, Medicine Lake, MN 55441

To enroll: Download the MSCJ DWI CLE Brochure

Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Breath Test Results

Today we conclude our four part blog series on independent testing and analysis. In parts two and three we discussed how independent analysis of the state’s blood and urine samples revealed inaccurate BCA test results. Today our series concludes with our posting of the administration of independent testing. We describe a case litigated last month where our client’s independent blood test refuted the state’s breath test.


We have revealed numerous problems with Minnesota’s Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test machine in this blog and elsewhere. Yet the BCA continues to claim the breath test machine yields accurate, valid and reliable results. With a little foresight, leading to the administration of an independent blood test, we are able to demonstrate the inaccurate breath test results.

The Intoxilyzer 5000 is designed to retain a portion of the breath sample collected in an apparatus called a “tox trap”, a silicon device that attaches to a connection on the back of Intoxilyzer. After a subject has supplied a breath sample, the machine blows the sample out an ejection port, to which the the tox trap is affixed. The operator then seals the tox trap, keeping the air within the tox trap so that it can be independently analyzed in the future.

Although Minnesota breath test machines have this capability, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) decided against using a tox trap to preserve breath samples. As a result, we are unable to obtain an independent analysis of a subject’s breath as we are able to do with blood and urine samples. 

We don’t let the BCA’s decision to discard critical evidence prevent us from fully representing our clients. While we can’t independently analyze a breath sample, we are able to obtain an independently collected sample under Minn. Stat. sec. 169A.51, subd 7 (b). The statute states:

The person tested has the right to have someone of the person's own choosing administer a chemical test or tests in addition to any administered at the direction of a peace officer; provided, that the additional test sample on behalf of the person is obtained at the place where the person is in custody, after the test administered at the direction of a peace officer, and at no expense to the state.

Mark’s DWI Breath Test Case & Independent Blood Test 

In a case I litigated last month, we introduced the results of my client’s independent blood test to demonstrate the breath test results were inaccurate. My client was arrested for DWI. He had called me before giving a breath test. During the “midnight call” I arranged for him to obtain an independent blood test.  Mark submitted to the breath test which showed his alcohol concentration was .11, well above the legal limit. His independent blood test, administered two hours and 20 minutes later was .04. 

The two test results cannot be reconciled.

The average burn off rate recognized by forensic scientist (including the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) is .015/hour. Multiplying .015 by 2 1/3, we had a total “burn off” of .035 during the time between the breath test and the blood test. Subtracting the burn off of .035 from .11, the breath test result should have been .075 at the time the blood was drawn – under the legal limit! The breath test result was very inaccurate.

Conversely, if we were to add the total burn off of .035 to the .04 blood test result, we would see that my client’s actual alcohol concentration by blood at the time of the administration of the breath test was .075!

We are well aware of Minnesota’s Intoxilyzer 5000 software problems. The problems deal with sampling, volume measurement and specificity. The BCA continues to insist the test is accurate. This demonstrates the Intoxilyzer 5000’s problems are well beyond source code issues, it does not provide accurate test results. Only by obtaining an independent blood test were we able to prove the breath test inaccurate.

Part 1: Freedom through Independence: Crises in Our Nation’s Forensic Science System

Part 2: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Blood Test Results

Part 3: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Urine Test Results

Part 4: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Intoxilyzer 5000 Breath Test Results

Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Urine Test Results

This week we present our blog series about the value of obtaining independent tests and conducting independent analysis to reveal inaccuracies in government testing. This year alone our firm discovered cases where the Minnesota BCA has reported inaccurate DWI test results. 

Yesterday, we told you how independent analysis of the state’s blood sample in a case last month revealed that it was inaccurate. The BCA reported our client’s blood alcohol concentration was over the legal limit of .08 and independent analysis by a local reputable lab showed it was actually .078 – under the legal limit. 

Today our series continues with urine testing. We describe two separate cases from this year where the prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges as a result of our independent analysis of the state’s sample. In one of the cases, however, the results were actually higher than what the BCA reported.


We have blogged extensively that urine testing is not generally accepted by the scientific community as a valid and reliable means of measuring impairment or determining the amount of alcohol in a person’s body. That is another topic. This blog posting addresses analyses of the samples. 

When a urine sample is collected for DWI prosecution, the lab must ensure the evaluation of the sample conforms to those procedures necessary to ensure the test results are valid, accurate and reliable. It appears that the Minnesota BCA does not share this view. 

Eric’s Urine Test Case

In January we tried Eric’s urine case to jury. Before trial we had the state’s urine sample analyzed by an independent lab. The Minnesota BCA had reported the urine alcohol concentration as more than .08. The independent test result was a .07, below the legal limit. 

The information was sufficient to convince the prosecutor to dismiss the .08 charge. The key evidence in most DWI trials – the state’s DWI alcohol sample – became irrelevant. With the critical evidence removed from the case, we easily prevailed on the impaired charge and the jury acquitted Eric. See, First Not Guilty Verdict of 2010: Hennepin County Jury Acquits Man of DWI Charges. I don’t know if the outcome would have been the same without the independent analysis of Eric’s urine sample.

James’ Urine Test Case

While we are unaware of the precise reason for the discrepancy between test results in Eric’s case, we are aware the BCA procedures are lacking as they do not ensure the test results are scientifically valid, reliable or inaccurate. For example, glucose – a sugar found in one’s urine – may ferment, artificially increasing an alcohol concentration test result. Reputable labs promulgate procedures to check for glucose and avoid reporting tests that may be contaminated with the sugar. 

Nationally recognized forensic scientis, Dr. Staubus, recently provided me with the State of Wisconsin’s procedures it implemented to ensure test samples are not contaminated with glucose. Wisconsin, unlike Minnesota, employs significant requirements to ensure glucose does not interfere with valid and reliable test results. They include lab technicians to:

1.            Check all ethanol-positive urine specimens for the presence of glucose with a Keto-diastix reagent strip.  Record the Keto-diastix result on the sample submission form (implied consent specimens) or internal tracking form (MVD, death investigation specimens).

2.            If a urine specimen is glucose-positive, store a room temperature for at least two days and re-analyze for ethanol concentration.  If the ethanol concentration has increased by 5% or more, the ethanol result is not reported and an appropriate comment is placed on the report.

The BCA claims that because each urine kit contains sodium fluoride, it need not promulgate procedures for collection, storage and transportation of urine samples to prevent fermentation. For the same reason, it need not promulgate procedures to check for glucose. 

We proved the BCA wrong. James was arrested for DWI and given a urine test.  The BCA reported the alcohol result as .16.  James was adamant the result could not be correct. We sent the sample to an independent lab to be retested.  The independent test result was .18. The urine alcohol concentration had increased by more than 12 percent! As I explained in a previous blog post, More Issues with DWI Urine Testing: Fermentation, we demonstrated that fermentation can and does occur. Once we provided the prosecutor documentation of our independent analysis, he dismissed all the DWI charges. 

In both Eric’s and James’ cases, we were able to prove the state’s tests results were inaccurate due to independent analysis of the state’s samples. We were able get the .08 DWI charges dismissed and prevailed in both cases.

Tomorrow in the final post of our four part series, we address a different method of checking the accuracy of the state’s alcohol test. Unlike the previous posts where we covered independent analysis of the state’s samples, we will discuss how administering an independent test at the time of arrest may provide valuable information in the defense of a DWI breath test case.  

See our previous postings in the series:

Part 1: Freedom through Independence: Crises in Our Nation’s Forensic Science System

Part 2: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Blood Test Results

Part 3: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Urine Test Results

Part 4: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Intoxilyzer 5000 Breath Test Results

Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Blood Test Results

Yesterday, we blogged about the serious deficiencies of our nation’s forensic science system.  We noted that although Minnesota’s crime lab has escaped wide spread scandal (notwithstanding the source code debacle), anecdotal evidence has emerged indicating the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is not immune from shoddy work.

Using independent analysis and independent testing, our firm discovered specific cases this year where the Minnesota BCA has reported inaccurate Driving While Impaired (DWI) test results.  The BCA’s errors apply to all three DWI alcohol tests – blood, breath and urine.  Today, we report on an erroneous BCA blood test result.


Our client (“JM”) was arrested in February, 2010 for suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Ramsey County, Minnesota.  The police asked JM to submit to a blood test and she complied.  A paramedic withdrew the blood at the police station and mailed the blood sample to the Minnesota BCA for analysis.  The BCA reported JM’s alcohol concentration to be .08, over the legal limit.  The state revoked JM’s license to drive and charged her with Fourth Degree DWI.

We believe that good DWI defense attorneys never assume that government tests results are accurate.  To verify JM’s BCA test results my firm had her blood retested by a reputable, independent lab.  The results were astounding.  The independent lab’s analysis revealed the BCA test results were inaccurate.  The independent lab results were .078 – below the legal limit!

We have already had JM’s driver’s license reinstated and the incident removed from her driving record.  With the benefit of the independent lab results of JM’s blood sample, I fully expect we will be successful in the criminal DWI case as well. 

Blood testing is widely recognized as the “gold standard” for DWI alcohol testing.  But a test is only as good as those who conduct the testing and only as reliable as the procedures they follow, including reporting the uncertainty in the test results (for an excellent article about metrology and reporting uncertainty, see The Truth About Forensic Science by Pennsylvania attorney, Justin McShane).

When investigating a blood test case, DWI lawyers should obtain not only the final lab reports, but also such information as all Quality Control tests used; all Quality Control tests performed on the test kit; any and all records relating to the test results; Chain of Custody records; the actual Gas Chromatograms; and Proficiency Records or results of proficiency tests for the BCA lab and the analyst who conducted the test.

Finally, attorneys should consider having the government’s DWI blood test results independently evaluated.  In many cases, your clients may gain their freedom through independence.

Tomorrow in part three of our series on independent testing and analysis:  DWI urine test results.

Part 1: Freedom through Independence: Crises in Our Nation’s Forensic Science System

Part 2: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Blood Test Results

Part 3: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Urine Test Results

Part 4: Freedom through Independence: Erroneous DWI Intoxilyzer 5000 Breath Test Results

Freedom through Independence: Additional Analyses Prove Government Tests Inaccurate

Our society has a blind faith in government forensic test results. The public’s confidence is particularly fervent in drunken driving cases. This confidence in government tests, however, is unfounded. 

In 2009, the National Research Council reported serious deficiencies in the nation's forensic science system and called for major reforms and new research. It discovered that mandatory certification programs for forensic scientists were lacking, as were strong standards and protocols for analyzing and reporting on evidence. It found a scarcity of peer-reviewed studies establishing the scientific bases and reliability of many forensic methods.

Media reports provide support for the 2009 study. Major crime labs around the country have been exposed for unscrupulous behavior, resulting in erroneous, untrustworthy forensic testing. For example: 

  • In Washington, a judge found “ethical lapses, systemic inaccuracy, negligence and violations of scientific principles” in the state’s crime lab and threw out hundreds of breath tests.
  • The mayor completely shut down the Detroit crime lab after voluminous errors were discovered.
  • The Houston crime lab has had numerous failures.
  • Colorado Springs metro crime lab’s blood alcohol results were just plain wrong.
  • San Francisco’s crime lab is in the midst of a scandal which jeopardizes “thousands of cases.”

Minnesota’s crime lab, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), has thus far escaped wide spread scandal (notwithstanding the source code debacle). Still, it is not immune. Anecdotal evidence has emerged, signaling similar problems exist in Minnesota. 

This year, our firm has discovered the Minnesota BCA has reported inaccurate test results in specific cases with all three of its DWI alcohol tests: blood, breath and urine. In the following three parts of our series, we will provide information about these cases demonstrating that individual drivers can help protect themselves through both administering independent tests and performing independent analysis of the state’s DWI alcohol samples.

Part 2: BCA Reports Inaccurate Blood Test Results

Part 3: BCA Reports Inaccurate Urine Test Results

Part 4: Intoxilyzer 5000’s Inaccurate Breath Test Results

Victimization via Vampire: New Legislative Changes to the DWI Law

            Minnesota uses three types of chemical test to investigate DWI cases. There are breath tests on the Intoxilyzer 5000EN. Then Minnesota has its unique take on urine testing. The third type of test is the blood test; a type of test used in nearly every state for DWI prosecutions and considered the “gold standard” with respect to value as evidence.

            Despite the massive problems with the Intoxilyzer, and the overwhelming criticism of its urine testing regime, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill and signed into law by Governor Pawlenty, seriously undermining its last, best chance at equitably enforcing our DWI laws. Starting July 1, 2010, it appears that almost anyone a police officer chooses can draw a driver’s blood - not just registered nurses, EMTs, and the other specifically listed persons currently authorized by statute.  The law protects them from civil suit if they were to cause infection or other injury.

            This is troubling for numerous reasons, the least of which is the fact that blood draws, if improperly performed, can be painful, traumatic, and can transfer infectious diseases. Moreover, the current law is likely unconstitutional.

            Currently, blood tests for evidentiary purposes are deemed constitutional - but not by much. In the Supreme Court case that first authorized these types of blood draws, the Court clearly explained that such a test is only reasonable where it is “taken by a physician in a hospital environment according to accepted medical practices. We are thus not presented with the serious questions that would arise is a search . . . were made by other than medical personnel or in other than a medical environment.”

            Police officers with limited training have routinely drawn blood in Cottage Grove, Woodbury and a few other jurisdictions. We expect that to expand.  Soon, that Supreme Court’s warning 45 years ago will be ignored, at least in Minnesota. The Legislature just legalized a practice that has opened the door to roadside blood tests by officers. Instead of blood drawn “in a hospital environment according to accepted medical practices,” we fully expect cops to routinely suck drivers’ blood on the hood of a filthy squad car at the side of the road.  Rest assured, we plan on fighting this law at the first available opportunity.

            At Ramsay Results, part of our job is to keep current on the latest changes in the law, so that we can effectively represent our clients. If you’re arrested for a DWI - especially if the arrest involves a blood test - contact Ramsay Law Firm immediately.

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More Issues with DWI Urine Testing: Fermentation

We have previously blogged about the unscientific nature of Minnesota’s urine testing regimen.  Despite some adverse court decisions, we continue to find ways to demonstrate our clients’ innocence.  Here is the story of one case where we revealed this month another reason why urine testing should not be used in DWI cases.

My client (“James”) was arrested for DWI and given a urine test.  The result was .16.  James, a former peace officer, was adamant the result was wrong.  During my initial interview, I learned that the container into which James deposited his urine sample was empty before he filled it. 

Beat DWI Urine Tests

I explained to James that Minnesota’s DWI urine kits are to include a white powder -- 1 gm of Sodium Fluoride.  The purpose of the chemical is to prevent any sugars present in the urine from being converted to ethanol in-vitro after sampling by fermentation.  Fermentation is likely to occur without the powder, particularly when the sample goes unrefrigerated. 
One way to determine whether fermentation occurred is to retest the sample by an independent lab.  Fermentation is likely if the independent test reveals a higher alcohol concentration than the state’s initial test result.  James paid to have the sample retested.  The result:  .18

The urine alcohol concentration had increased by 12 ½ percent! 

We retained the services of a reputable forensic scientist for his opinion.  After reviewing the police and toxicology reports he concluded:

1.         The urine alcohol level is clearly rising in this sample going from a .16 to a .18 on retest.
2.         Fermentation is the cause of this alcohol increase.
3.         Fermentation proceeds at room temperature and this sample spends 4+ days at ambient temperature before it is refrigerated at [the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA)].  It spends unknown, but likely several days, at room temperature during BCA analysis in which it is goes up in alcohol level.
4.         The client reports no powder in the kit which would significantly accelerate fermentation.
5.         The BCA did not test for glucose or preservative in defendant’s sample.
The clear interpretation of the data is a rising alcohol level.  That makes this test and the sample unreliable to show the actual level of defendant’s urine at the time the sample was collected.
The Urine alcohol level is not related to intoxication so the sample is of no value to the issue of intoxication.

My client was right! 
This demonstrates that urine testing continues to be an unreliable method of determining the alcohol concentration of a person arrested and charged with DWI.  If you have been arrested, call the Ramsay Law Firm immediately.

Court Flushes Urine Test in Another DWI Case


As we have blogged before, urine testing is not a scientifically accepted method of determining a driver’s alcohol concentration in a DUI case. Despite this fact, more police agencies are using urine testing to determine drivers' alcohol concentration. 

Our law firm continues to be very successful attacking urine tests. This month prosecutors agreed to reduce numerous urine cases to lesser offenses, eliminating mandatory jail sentences. In a number of instances, the prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the DWI charges entirely.

Judges also recognize the unscientific nature of urine tests. In one case this month, the state charged my client with a Gross Misdemeanor DWI after his urine test revealed an alcohol concentration of .22.    I asked the judge to throw out the urine test result. The state objected. The officer had collected the urine sample two hours and five minutes after the stop. While acknowledging this, the state claimed that it could use “retrograde extrapolation” to prove my client had an alcohol concentration over the limit within two hours. The judge disagreed.

Urine has many limitations, one of which is that it has no burn-off rate – as does breath and blood. At the suppression hearing, the state toxicologist admitted that no reputable scientist could use a urine test result to extrapolate one’s alcohol concentration at an earlier point in time. Without the ability to tie the .22 urine test to any one point in time, the court ruled the alcohol test result irrelevant and suppressed the urine test. 

With no alcohol test, the prosecutor dropped the DWI charges and my client pleaded to a careless driving. Because we had prevailed in the civil implied consent hearing, the careless was not alcohol related. 

We will expose the unscientific nature of urine testing as long as police use urine testing to take away drivers’ licenses and convict them of crimes. We continue to develop new ideas to attack urine and other alcohol tests. Call us immediately if you’ve been charged with a DWI.

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Agency Under Siege: The MN BCA Attempts to Repair its Damaged Reputation

Recently, the Superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension sent a “fluff piece” to the Minneapolis Star Tribune titled, “Some Love for Forensic Scientists” touting why everyone should have “confidence in the quality of the BCA scientists’ work.”

The whole theme of this article can be summed up in one of the first sentences, where the Superintendent states, “without the painstaking work performed by forensic scientists . . .  I'm confident justice would be served far less often in real life.”

This statement baffles me, and should baffle you too. Where was this confident sense of justice when the Intoxilyzer 5000 was failing? Are we honestly expected to have confidence in an agency that knew for years that the Intoxilyzer was experiencing critical flaws, and boldly refused to fix those errors because of fears that fixing their mistakes would undermine the aura of perfection the BCA attempted to create around the Intoxilyzer? That’s neither justice nor good science.

And what about the BCA’s DWI urine testing regime? Minnesota is probably the only state to actually use first void testing regularly for DWI prosecutions. In fact, even other countries, those with far stricter DWI laws, won’t use urine testing for DWI prosecutions.

When a scientific agency is the only one doing something a particular way, it can only mean one of two things – either they are on the cutting edge of science, or they’re stubbornly clinging to science that has already been clearly and unequivocally refuted.  I can tell you for a fact that the BCA’s treatment of urine testing isn’t cutting edge science.

What we have here is an agency that claims, in the newspapers, to be using scientific principles to ensure justice in the courtroom. What every Minnesotan needs to know, however, is that those scientific principles are typically ignored by the BCA for purely political reasons, and that always leads to injustice.

A truly independent scientific agency would not refuse to fix its Intoxilyzers for fear of looking foolish. An agency dedicated to sound science and fair convictions would not cling to an outdated and discredited method of urine testing to convict Minnesotan drivers of DWI.

Maybe a better title for that article would have been, “Science Only When it Suits Us.”

If you or your attorney have bought into the belief that the scientific evidence presented by the Minnesota BCA is unassailable, you’re wrong. We fight this evidence every day - and win. If you’re being charged with a crime based on supposedly scientific evidence, call the Ramsay Law Firm. We don’t believe the hype – we get results.

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Minnesota's Complex DWI Laws: Daunting for the Dabbling DWI Lawyer


Minnesota’s DWI law (Chapter 169A) consumes 186 pages on Westlaw.  By comparison, the entire First Degree Murder law easily fits on a single page.

Without an attorney who has the experience, knowledge and skills in the field of DWI law, you run the serious risk of losing what otherwise should be a winning case. This is especially true when it comes to the some of the arcane and obscure rules that apply in the civil “Implied Consent” case that trails along with almost every criminal DWI case.

In the context of a criminal case, any attorney worth his or her salt should know that the government must prove that an allegedly intoxicated driver was either driving, operating, or in “physical control” of a motor vehicle.

What most attorneys don’t know - probably because it isn’t even listed in a Minnesota statute - is that the State is also required to prove that a person was driving, operating or in physical control of a vehicle in the civil Implied Consent case. This is an issue that can win cases, but first you have to recognize that the issue exists! 

The civil implied consent law seems to limit the issues a driver may raise at the implied consent hearing. Note that none of the Implied Consent Statute does not permit a driver to challenge whether he or she was actually driving.  Instead it permits a driver to challenge only whether the police officer had “probable cause.”

The scope of the hearing is limited to the issues in clauses (1) to (10):

(1) Did the peace officer have probable cause to believe the person was driving, operating, or in physical control of a motor vehicle or commercial motor vehicle in violation of section 169A.20 (driving while impaired)?

(2) Was the person lawfully placed under arrest for violation of section 169A.20?

(3) Was the person involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision resulting in property damage, personal injury, or death?

(4) Did the person refuse to take a screening test provided for by section 169A.41 (preliminary screening test)?

(5) If the screening test was administered, did the test indicate an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more?

(6) At the time of the request for the test, did the peace officer inform the person of the person's rights and the consequences of taking or refusing the test as required by section 169A.51, subdivision 2?

(7) Did the person refuse to permit the test?

(8) If a test was taken by a person driving, operating, or in physical control of a motor vehicle, did the test results indicate at the time of testing:
(i) an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more; or
(ii) the presence of a controlled substance listed in schedule I or II or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols?

(9) If a test was taken by a person driving, operating, or in physical control of a commercial motor vehicle, did the test results indicate an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more at the time of testing?

(10) Was the testing method used valid and reliable and were the test results accurately evaluated?

Despite the statutory limitations to the contrary, drivers can and should challenge whether the state can prove they were driving when appropriate.  Many attorneys miss this since the statute does not seem to permit it.

Too many attorneys give a passing glance to the maze of DWI statutes, shrug their shoulders, and decide to plea their clients and outright waive the right to a hearing. At Ramsay Results, we’re always one step ahead, looking beyond the law to make sure that any issue that can be raised, will be raised. It’s how we practice law - and it’s how we get results.

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Where's the Beef?? Government's Attempt to Defend Urine Testing Lacks Meat

Practicing on the cutting edge of criminal defense law is highly rewarding for both our clients and our attorneys. It wasn’t too long ago that we renewed our attack against Minnesota’s illogical urine testing regime for DWI suspects. We carefully crafted a unique legal argument and have already seen success for our clients in the district courts as a result of this argument. Such arguments require a strong scientific understanding – not just legal experience – and take a determined lawyer to prove effective in court.

Just last week, we brushed up on our studies and held another Frye-Mack hearing.  This type of hearing is a key part to our attack against a urine testing regime that is being used to convict Minnesota drivers who may not have had any alcohol in their bloodstream when they were driving. If you think that last sentence sounds absurd, wait until you read what the government presented as evidence that Minnesota’s method of urine testing is a “generally accepted practice” in the scientific community.

-          The government expert initially relied on numerous studies that purportedly supported the way Minnesota conducts urine tests. On careful cross examination, however, the expert was quickly forced to admit that the authors of these studies actually oppose the way Minnesota uses urine testing in DWI cases.

-          The government witnesses were unable to speak about a single other state that uses urine testing for DWI’s in the way that Minnesota does. Again, cross examination was able to reveal to the court that Minnesota is the only state to utilize first void urine samples to convict DWI suspects.

-          When we had our chance to present testimony (something we’ve perfected since we first formulated this argument) we presented volumes of unrebutted testimony, expert opinion and scientific articles that make one thing clear: Minnesota needs to stop using urine tests to convict drivers of DWI.

-          We introduced a new peer reviewed scientific treatise, "Relationship between Blood and Urine Concentrations..." by Dr. A.W. Jones to be published later this year in Forensic Science International.  Dr. Jones’ data supports his previous conclusions that Minnesota urine testing is bad science.

-          In a bombshell, the former supervisor of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s toxicology section, Glenn Hardin, testified he submitted a written proposal to rid the state of urine testing to determine a specific level of alcohol in DWI cases.  His political supervisors, however, thwarted his attempt to rid Minnesota of unscientific urine testing.

The testimony has all been heard; now we’re waiting for the judge to issue a ruling. Given our experience in the area, we’re expecting a victory for our client, and hope to be able to post again soon with another judicial order explaining what every other scientist (outside the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) understands: Minnesota’s urine testing regime is unreliable and inaccurate.

If you’ve been charged with a DWI, and the government is using the results of a urine test against you, you’ll want attorneys with the background, experience and drive to make sure that your rights are protected. That means calling Ramsay Law Office, where we don’t just let the government get their way – we get results.

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First Not Guilty Verdict of 2010: Hennepin County Jury Acquits Man of DWI Charges


In our first trial of 2010, a Hennepin County jury found my client not guilty after a trial in Minneapolis. 

The prosecutor had charged “Eric” (not his real name) with DWI after his arrest in August last year.  The police officer stopped Eric’s Mercedes convertible after crossing over the center line three times, almost striking another vehicle.  Eric agreed to perform standardized field sobriety tests consisting of the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (eye test where the person follows the officer’s finger or pen), the One Leg Stand, and the Walk and Turn test (walking heel to toe on a line). 

The officer arrested Eric after the field sobriety tests.  Eric submitted to a urine test.  The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) tested Eric’s urine sample and reported his alcohol concentration was over the legal limit of 0.80.  As a result of the test result, the state charged Eric with two charges of Second Degree DWI (3d in ten years) and forfeited his $80,000 automobile.

Before trial I obtained Eric’s urine sample from the BCA and had it retested by an independent lab.  The reported result was .076, just UNDER the legal limit. 

We began trial Tuesday with pre-trial motions.  The judge denied all of our motions (the first time that has happened in my career!) and we began picking a jury.  I called no witnesses to testify and relied on my cross examination to establish reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds.  

The jury returned Thursday afternoon with a verdict of Not Guilty

Many believe DWI cases are not winnable.  Most attorneys unfortunately believe all they can do is “negotiate” with the prosecutor and do not challenge the evidence or take the cases to trial.  As a result of challenging the evidence and winning the trial, the state will likely return Eric’s $80,000 vehicle.

If you have been charged with DWI in Minnesota, call Minneapolis DWI lawyer Chuck Ramsay immediately.  We don’t negotiate – we win!

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Minnesota's Test Refusal Law: Finding a Loophole in a "Knotty" Law

Many consider the test refusal law to be unbeatable. The law is not straightforward and is difficult to understand. A lawyer well versed in the law, science and facts of your case can beat the crime of test refusal.

The law as it exists today came about to close a loophole in Minnesota’s DWI law. Decades ago, people refused to submit alcohol testing which limited the evidence available to the state. Then, the state passed the "Implied Consent Law." Under the original law, upon refusing to test the state would revoke a person’s license for one year. This caused most people to submit to testing. To increase those numbers, the state made it a crime to refuse testing under the Minnesota Implied Consent Act. This crime was treated the same as taking the test and failing. Later, when the state amended the criminal DWI law making the consequences more severe for those over .20, many drivers began to refuse to take the test rather than risk facing enhanced charges for a high alcohol test result.

Once drivers became more aware of the enhanced charges for a .20 or greater, more drivers again began refusing DWI tests rather than risk facing the more serious consequences. The state closed that loophole earlier this decade by making test refusal a crime more serious than merely failing a DWI alcohol test over .08 or more.

As a result of the piecemeal amendments to Minnesota’s Impaired Driving Laws, the laws have become an unconstitutional, knotted mess.

The refusal provision states:

 “It is a crime for any person to refuse to submit to a chemical test of the person's blood, breath, or urine under section 169A.51 (chemical tests for intoxication), or 169A.52 (test refusal or failure; revocation of license).” Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 2 (2008).  Under the law, the refusal crime is more serious than taking and failing the test.

Is Minnesota’s DWI Test Refusal Law Constitutional?

Minnesota is one of fifteen states that make it a crime for a driver to refuse to submit to blood, urine or breath testing after being arrested for a DWI.  The rationale behind the criminal law is obvious: to coerce drivers into providing an alcohol test to increase the likelihood of conviction. 

No empirical data supports the government’s claim that the test refusal law makes the roads safer.  Particularly troubling, is that those who agree to submit a breath sample, may be charged with test refusal when the Intoxilyzer 5000 deems the sample to be deficient. 

I believe the law is unconstitutional as it compels citizens to waive their right to warrantless searches and seizure.  I argued this before the Minnesota Supreme Court last year, but the Court sidestepped the issue in State v. Netland.  The court left undecided one question, as articulated by the dissent.

Minnesota Intoxilyzer 5000: Using Science to Beat a Test Refusal

Fortunately, DWI lawyers who are particularly skilled and knowledgeable about Minnesota’s Implied Consent DWI law may be able to beat a DWI test refusal charge when the driver submits to the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test. 

The local twin cities media has reported on how I’ve exposed flaws in the breath test software causing the Intoxilyzer 5000 to erroneously deem a person to have refused to submit to a breath test.  The documents I’ve discovered and the testimony I’ve elicited have resulted in a federal judge ordering CMI to disclose the source code to Minnesota defense attorneys.

A driver is not likely to beat a breath test refusal charge without a Minnesota lawyer who knows the scientific flaws of the Intoxilyzer 5000, the issues involving the source code and how the state’s experts will testify in court.

Blood Tests and Urine Tests: Using the DWI Law’s Provisions to Beat the Refusal Law

A client hired me last month in a blood test refusal case.  I thought the facts from the case can help explain how to beat a test refusal to test charge. 


My client was stopped by police and arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.  The officer took her to a hospital for a blood test.  The officer asked my client if she would submit to a blood test and my client agreed. 


Here are relevant facts from the officer’s police report:


I began to read the Implied Consent document to “Kim.” Kim agreed to take a blood test.  An RN assisted me with the blood draw.  I opened the blood kit and began filling out the paper work. Kim was physically pulling away from the nurse when she put the tourniquet on her arm.  Kim said she didn't like needles. I explained to Kim that this was a registered nurse and she will be fine.  Kim would not let the nurse touch her. 

Kim would physically pull away every time the nurse would touch her arm. I explained to Kim that she already agreed to take the blood test and that if she did not allow the nurse to take blood that it will be considered a refusal. 

Another nurse was called to assist. The nurse said she will hold her arm straight for her while the other nurse inserts the needle.  Kim lifted her feet off the floor almost kicking the nurse in the stomach, RN told Kim that the other nurse was pregnant and that she needed to settle down. Kim said “just do it.”  RN attempted again to draw blood and Kim pulled away swinging her arms. RN said that she would attempt one more time because she was making it dangerous with the needle.  Kim again physically pulled away from the nurse, RN said she would not draw blood because she was physically uncooperative and it was dangerous.  Due to Kim’s aggressive behavior all testing was stopped.

Kim refused to test.

Does this violate Minnesota’s Implied Consent/DWI Test refusal law?   No.

Under the Statute, “action may be taken against a person who refuses to take a blood test only if an alternative test was offered and action may be taken against a person who refuses to take a urine test only if an alternative test was offered.  Minn. Stat. § 169A.51, subd. 3 (emphasis added). 

It is clear that the legislature never intended for a person to be subject to criminal charges simply for refusing a blood test or urine test without being offered an alternative.

In this example, although Kim said she would submit to a blood test, she prevented the RN from withdrawing blood and she refused the test.  However, the officer should have offered Kim the opportunity to submit to a urine test before declaring, “Kim refused to test.”

Because no action can be taken against a person for refusing to submit to a blood test unless an alternative test is offered, the judge should dismiss the test refusal charge.  As a footnote, the state took my client’s car in this very real case.  Once the judge dismisses the refusal charge the state will be forced to return my client’s car to her. 

If you have been charged with DWI, DUI or Refusal to Submit to Testing, call Chuck Ramsay immediately.


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I was arrested for a DWI after my Urine Test was Over .08. What is a Frye-Mack hearing, and why is my attorney asking for one?

We’ve previously posted about Urine Testing and Frye-Mack hearings. Today, a reader asked “what is a Frye-Mack hearing, and should my attorney be asking for one too?” 

The Constitution’s Guarantee of Right to Trial by Jury

 Whenever a prosecutor charges a person with a crime that could result in jail, the Constitution provides that person with numerous constitutional rights. One of those sacred, longstanding rights is the right to a trial.  

 At its most basic, a trial is nothing more than a fact finding process. That means that everyone charged with a crime has the right to have a jury of his or her peers listen to the evidence and determine, based solely on that evidence, whether or not the State has proven that the “defendant” committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

How Good Defense Lawyers Are Worth Their Value

Good Lawyers know how and what types of evidence can be presented to that jury.  Great lawyers know how to keep out evidence that should not be admitted at trial. 

Anyone who has watched Law and Order realizes that there are a variety of grounds for an attorney to get evidence suppressed. Usually, on TV, it’s because the evidence was obtained by police officers that broke the law.

However, in real life, it’s far more likely that an attorney will be attempting to suppress evidence because it’s simply not relevant, or because it is so unreliable that it would do nothing more than confuse the jury. Sometimes, it’s because the evidence looks good at first glance, but is really nothing more than smoke and mirrors. And this is where the phrase Frye-Mack comes into play. 

A Frye-Mack hearing is an evidentiary hearing, held before any trial takes place, and it is used to determine if “scientific evidence” can be presented against an accused defendant. It’s called a Frye-Mack hearing in Minnesota based upon two reported cases that outlined the procedure; United States v. Frye, a Washington D.C. case from the 1920's that dealt with a type of lie detector test, and State v. Mack, a Minnesota case from the 1980's that dealt with “hypnosis” testimony.

As a result of these two cases (and many others that followed), Minnesota has two very specific criteria that need to be met before the State can introduce scientific evidence to a jury. These criteria are aimed at preventing juries from being presented with “junk science.”

Frye-Mack Prong 1:  Has the test gained general acceptance in the scientific community?

Under what is called the “first prong” of Frye-Mack analysis, the State must prove that the scientific technique that is being used has gained general acceptance in the scientific community. As a fun example, we’ll use phrenology, or the belief that the personality traits of a person can be derived from the shape of that person’s skull.


 In our example, before a jury could find someone guilty of murder based on phrenological evidence (let’s say the State can prove that the defendant has the dreaded “murder bump” on his forehead) the State would have to show that phrenology is a scientific technique that is generally accepted in the scientific community. There would be a Frye-Mack hearing, and the State would fly in experts from around the world to testify about how everyone uses and respects phrenology, why phrenology is such good science, and maybe even why the specific bumps on their own heads prove that they are credible witnesses. If, after all the testimony, the judge is convinced that phrenology is generally accepted in the scientific community, the State has succeeded on “prong one” of the Frye-Mack test.

Frye-Mack Prong 2:  Did they do the test properly?

Having successfully met its burden on prong one, the State would then have to meet its burden on “prong two” of the Frye-Mack test. This second prong means that the State must not only show that a technique is generally accepted in the scientific community, but also that the laboratory conducting the tests in the individual case complied with appropriate standards and controls.

In our example, the State would meet its burden under the second prong of the Frye-Mack tests by presenting more experts that could show how phrenology typically works (probably with models of human skulls and demonstrations on how to use weird measuring devices). The State would then have to show that, in the case of our alleged murderer, those accepted techniques were used to conclude that yes, our alleged murderer does have the “murder bump” on his forehead, so of course he must be guilty.

Of course, in a real courtroom, a jury would never hear evidence of phrenology. That’s why Minnesota uses the Frye-Mack standard - to prevent the jury from even being exposed to junk science. In our example, I doubt a prosecutor could find one reliable expert that could sit in court and say, with a straight face, that the scientific community generally agrees that phrenology is valid science. Without proof of general acceptance in the scientific community, the State fails to meet its burden under prong one of Frye-Mack analysis and the evidence is excluded as junk science. We can all breathe a small sigh of relief knowing that the lumps on our head won’t lead to criminal charges in the near future.

However, the two prongs of the Frye-Mack test apply not just to phrenology, but every type of -ology, up to and including every type of mechanical or physical scientific test. Both prongs of the test, general acceptance and foundational reliability, must be met before scientific evidence can be presented to a jury.

DNA evidence, for example, has already been proven to be generally accepted at a Frye-Mack hearing, and juries now see this type of evidence every day. Polygraphs (lie detectors), on the other hand, have not been shown to have gained general acceptance in the scientific community, and until that happens in Minnesota, the results of polygraph tests cannot be presented to a jury.

The list of types of scientific evidence that has undergone the scrutiny of the Frye-Mack test is long, but every scientific technique that has been analyzed has one thing in common - the State had its chance to prove that the technique had gained general acceptance in the scientific community, and either succeeded or failed in its showing.

This, in a nutshell, is what a Frye-Mack hearing is - a special evidentiary safeguard that is in place to make absolutely sure that a person can’t be proven guilty based on science, unless and until that type of science has gained general acceptance in the scientific community.

When it comes to DWI’s, especially DWI’s involving urine tests, one thing is crystal clear: testing urine to determine a precise alcohol concentration at a given point in time has never been shown, via a Frye-Mack hearing, to be a technique that is generally accepted in the scientific community. The sad reality is that there are volumes of evidence demonstrating that it is not generally accepted by any good scientists, and that Minnesota is unique in that it still presents juries with urine test results in DWI cases. Thus, good attorneys who fully understand the rules of evidence will stand up and demand that a Frye-Mack hearing be held whenever the State attempts to use “junk science” like urine tests against their clients.

 Every Driver Charged With A DWI by Urine Should File A Frye-Mack Motion.

 Although the Minnesota Court of Appeals did not agree with us that Frye applies to urine cases, we are appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  In the past, Judges have ruled Urine Does not Pass the Frye Test. I expect the Minnesota Supreme Court to do the same.

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Minnesota DWI Lawyers Pissed about Urine Cases: What Happens When Judges Assume the Role of Scientist


In a cruel, ironic twist, a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling today makes the least scientific alcohol test the most unassailable. In Schroeder v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, A09-238 (Minn. Ct. App. Dec. 15, 2009), the court rejected a driver’s claim that urine testing is not a practice that is generally accepted in the scientific community as a valid and reliable method of determining alcohol concentration.

Minnesota uses three types of DWI alcohol testing methods: blood, breath and urine. Blood is widely recognized as the most reliable. Even breath tests, which suffer from some well known problems, are used around the world. However, most states do not use urine testing at all to determine a specific level of alcohol concentration.

As I’ve previously blogged, urine testing is not scientifically valid, reliable or accurate. The Society of Forensic Technologists (SOFT) and The Toxicology Section of The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) are against it in their Forensic Toxicology Laboratory Guidelines. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is against it. No scientific peer reviewed article supports the use of urine alcohol testing. More than a dozen forensic journals have published peer reviews establishing that urine testing is bad science. Minnesota is the only state in the country to use it the way it does, and the way that Minnesota does it means that a person may have no alcohol in their blood, but still be charged for having a urine alcohol concentration over the legal limit!

One district court who tackled this issue head on had some choice words to say about this type of urine testing. The Honorable Judge Thuet, in the case of Carrell v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, said:

“[T]he continued use of a testing procedure which experts agree may not measure the level of alcohol concentration, and thus intoxication of a driver at the time it is administered, and which the state's witness admitted may yield results that do not correlate with blood tests performed at the same time, constitutes an absurd result which the Legislature could not possibly have intended, especially given the stated goal of enhancing safety by removing intoxicated drivers from the roads. In light of this, the Court is compelled to rescind the revocation of the Petitioner's driving privileges.

Despite the opinions of some Minnesota judges and almost the entire scientific community, the court of appeals rejected our demand for a Frye-Mack hearing (which would require the State to show that urine testing is generally accepted in the scientific community). Instead, the court implicitly adopts the Daubert standard (a standard used in other jurisdictions – ironically, those that don’t even use urine testing – that allows judges to simply take judicial notice of reliability of urine testing). By ignoring our Frye-Mack request, the court is attempting to make the presumption that urine testing is reliable irrefutable.

To understand just how troubling this ruling is requires a brief explanation of the standard that should have been applied by the Schroeder panel (the Frye-Mack standard) versus the standard that was actually applied (the Daubert standard) and why this is a dangerous precedent for the entire state of Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Frye-Mack standard has been steadily evolving since the early 20th century, and by the 1980's the Minnesota Supreme Court summarized the test in State v. Mack, 292 N.W.2d 764, 768 (Minn.1980), by stating that, “the results of mechanical or scientific testing are not admissible unless the testing has developed or improved to the point where experts in the field widely share the view that the results are scientifically reliable as accurate.”

The Supreme Court summed up its holding in State v. Mack two decades later by stating that the ultimate purpose of determining the admissibility of mechanical or scientific evidence is to ensure that, “the particular evidence must have a foundation that is scientifically reliable.” State v. Roman Nose, 649 N.W.2d 815, 818 (Minn. 2002).

The Supreme Court then carefully and definitively created a two-pronged standard that must be used to determine if a particular piece of mechanical or scientific evidence has a foundation that is scientifically reliable. Id. Concisely stated, the Court held that, “a novel scientific technique that produces evidence to be admitted at trial must be shown to be generally accepted within the relevant scientific community, and second, the particular evidence derived from the technique and used in an individual case must have a foundation that is scientifically reliable. Id. at 818-819 (citing Goeb v. Tharaldson, 615 N.W.2d 800, 810 (Minn.2000) [reaffirming adherence to Frye-Mack standard after Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)]).

Unfortunately, even a cursory reading of the Schroeder opinion shows that, rather than follow the Supreme Court’s mandate in the seminal Frye-Mack case of State v. Roman Nose, the Court of Appeals instead chose to utilize the Daubert standard for admitting scientific evidence. This, despite the fact that Minnesota has not adopted the Daubert standard, because it is less rigorous than the Frye-Mack standard. State v. Traylor, 656 N.W.2d 885, 891 (Minn.2003). This, despite the fact that one of the judges on the Schroeder panel, when confronted with a specific request to use the Daubert standard instead of the Frye-Mack standard, held that “[T]he task of extending existing law falls to the supreme court or the legislature, but it does not fall to this court.”Yang v. State, 2008 WL 1972856 (Minn.App. 2008) (citing Tereault v. Palmer, 413 N.W.2d 283, 286 (Minn.App.1987), review denied (Minn. 18 Dec. 1987).

The Schroeder panel started its cursory two-paragraph analysis by accurately stating that, “[t]he Frye-Mack test is aimed at reliability.”Schroeder at 5. This is a fairly close approximation of the Supreme Court’s summation of Frye-Mack in the Roman Nose case, cited supra in this post.

What the Schroeder panel did next, however, was to eviscerate the standard two-prong Frye-Mack analysis and instead fall back upon the rejected Daubert standard. After reciting the fact that Frye-Mack is indeed concerned with “reliability,” the panel chose to ignore the fact that Frye-Mack has established a clear and specific procedure for determining that “reliability.” Instead, the Panel simply held, without analysis, that “reliability” as a general concept had already been established by two Court of Appeals cases, Genung v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 589 N.W.2d 311 (Minn. App. 1999) and Hayes v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 773 N.W.2d 134 (Minn. App. 2009), pet. for review filed (Minn. Nov. 6, 2009). This appellate determination that, nothwithstanding the views of the scientific community, urine testing has mystically become reliable science by judicial fiat is precisely what Minnesota’s Frye-Mack regime is designed to avoid. Neither of the two cases cited by the Schroeder panel dealt with whether or not the testing method at issue had been proven to be “generally accepted in the scientific community,” the required first-prong burden that applies under Frye-Mack. Judicial fiat, not hard science, now appears to be the new test that applies to scientific evidence in Minnesota.

What is so troubling about this sudden development is that the Supreme Court has gone to great, detailed length to carefully explain exactly what type of analysis is required under prong one of Frye-Mack . . . and, as if able to predict the future, the Supreme Court even managed to explicitly reject the approach taken by the Schroeder panel.

Rather than paraphrase or run the risk of misinterpreting the plain language of the Minnesota Supreme Court, a few direct quotations are all that is necessary to demonstrate that the Court of Appeals is attempting to undermine the entire appellate process. The first quote comes from State v. Roman Nose, and explains why the Schroeder panel’s simple and misguided reliance on prior cases (where the issue of general acceptance in the scientific community was not at issue, much less litigated) is improper: The Court stated:

“[T]he issue of whether a technique is generally accepted within the relevant scientific community is best determined by evidentiary hearing. See Goeb v. Tharaldson, 615 N.W.2d 800, 814 (Minn. 2000). There was no evidentiary hearing on general acceptance in this case and, contrary to the dissent's argument, hearings before other district courts will not substitute for the evidentiary hearing required here. Without an evidentiary hearing on the views of the relevant scientific community, trial and appellate judges become scientists, an approach we clearly rejected in Goeb. 615 N.W.2d at 813-14. State v. Roman Nose, 649 N.W.2d 815, 819, fn.3 (Minn. 2002)”

What immediately comes to mind is that the Schroeder Panel is indeed viewing itself as “amateur scientists” despite all warnings to the contrary by the Supreme Court. Relying on Hayes (where defense experts were actually precluded from testifying) and Genung (where the prosecution did not even present expert testimony, and where the defendant did not even contest the foundation for the urine test) simply cannot comply with the demand to hold an “evidentiary hearing on the views of the relevant scientific community.” Thus, we have a new breed of judge-scientist, a dangerous breed that the Supreme Court has warned the bar about since the dawn of the new millennium.

This type of logic - effectively using the doctrine of “judicial notice” to find that a scientific technique is indeed generally accepted in the scientific community - was shot down by the Roman Nose court years before it was utilized by the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court in Roman Nose took the time to state clearly:

“The dissent argues that we should take “judicial notice” of the inherent reliability of the PCR-STR method of testing DNA unless something in the record indicates a reason to depart from the findings of other jurisdictions. But that is not the procedure we have established for determining the admissibility of scientific evidence. Moreover, there is an inadequate record to support taking judicial notice of the general acceptance of the PCR-STR method because appellant's request for a hearing on the issue was denied by the trial court.”State v. Roman Nose, 649 N.W.2d 815, 823, fn 9 (Minn.,2002)


As if the above quotations did not make the need for an evidentiary hearing clear enough, and the Supreme Court felt obligated to clearly explain to the lower courts how to conduct Frye-Makc analysis, the opinion in Roman Nose further elaborated on the need for an evidentiary hearing. Again, this is a hearing where the specific issue presented was whether or not a mechanical or scientific technique is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. The Court repeated that:

It is not enough for us to believe the test has gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community. The state must establish that it has gained general acceptance, and it must do so by evidentiary hearing.”State v. Roman Nose, 649 N.W.2d 815, 820, fn.5 (Minn. 2002)”

In the case of Schroeder v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, the Appellant was asking for nothing more than what the Supreme Court says is absolutely necessary - an evidentiary hearing. Appellant merely wanted the district court to compel the Commissioner to prove, once and only once, one specific proposition. And that proposition came directly from the Supreme Court: Is urine testing, as practiced by Minnesota, a mechanical or scientific technique that has gained general acceptance in the scientific community?” This question was never raised in Genung. It was never raised in Hayes. It was never ruled on by either court. For the Schroeder panel to so callously disregard the Supreme Court’s expectation that Frye-Mack issues will be resolved via nothing other than an evidentiary hearing is a dangerous precedent indeed.

By eliminating the need for an evidentiary proponent to prove general acceptance of a technique, and replacing this test with the nebulous, impossible to define threshold of bald, “reliability,” the Schroeder panel has set dangerous precedent and has demonstrated exactly why Minnesotans do not want their judges to act as scientists.

We are continuing to fight the use of bad science to ruin people’s lives. Let’s hope the Minnesota Supreme Court accepts review and overturns the court of appeals absurd rulings.

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Urine Tests Should Not Be Used To Determine Alcohol Level for DWI or DUI

Last week I was representing a client at trial for his second DWI. Instead of going to trial, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss all DWI charges.


The police did not give him a breath test (probably because we’ve all but shut down Minnesota’s Intoxilyzer 5000 after exposing its broken source code). Police did not give him a blood test (some officers believe it is too costly and inconvenient). Instead, they had my client submit a sample of his urine for testing.

The Scientific Community Agrees: Urine Tests do not validly or reliably determine a person’s alcohol concentration. Despite this, Minnesota is the only state in the country which regularly uses urine testing without first voiding the bladder in DWI cases.

I have been successful getting judges to throw out urine test results. I’ve posted the court orders in the Carroll case and Westlund case. I’ve also prevailed in trial where a jury agreed urine tests are worthless. Prosecutors are well aware of my firm’s victories. Indeed, I’ve had much greater success in this area than any other attorney in Minnesota. As a result, prosecutors are reluctant to go to trial with me in urine test cases. This is good news for my clients.

If the State of Minnesota has charged you with a crime or taken your license based on a urine test, call us immediately. We can help.

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Ramsay Wins Another DWI Blood Test Case

In August a Sherburne County jury found my client innocent of all DWI charges in a blood test case.  The state had reported his alcohol concentration was .16.  We beat that case by showing the jury that the state did not follow the procedures necessary to ensure the results were valid, reliable and accurate.  We also showed that our client was not impaired by alcohol. 


Last week, an Anoka court ruled in favor of my client where his blood alcohol concentration was .19.  “Andy” had rolled his pickup truck on I-35W in Blaine, Minnesota earlier this year.  Because of his injuries, Andy was taken to the hospital where police ordered hospital staff to obtain a blood sample.  An employee of the hospital staff complied.  Police mailed the blood vials to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for analysis.


Under Minnesota’s Implied Consent Law, any person who has been trained as a physician, medical technician, emergency medical technician, registered nurse, medical technologist, medical technician-paramedic, medical laboratory technician, or laboratory assistant may administer a blood test.


In Andy’s case, the person who withdrew the blood was an “Emergency Department” Technician.  ER Technician is not one of the enumerated qualified persons to draw blood under the implied consent statute.  As a result the court held the blood test result inadmissible and rescinded my client’s driver’s license revocation.


Because the court ruled in our favor on that issue, the court did not need to address the other issues in the case: whether the officer denied my client the right to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to test or consent.  I believe either of these other issues would have been meritorious.


Of the three types of DWI alcohol tests used by Minnesota – blood, breath and urine – I see blood tests the least.  This is probably due to the added time and expense required to go to the hospital where a medical professional must draw the blood, and the delay in receiving the results.


While blood tests are the most difficult to beat in a DWI case, the moral of this story is that blood tests can be beaten if challenged by a very competent attorney.


I regularly beat urine and breath tests as well.  If you’ve been charged with a DWI or DUI as a result of a blood, breath or urine test, call Chuck Ramsay immediately.



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Drunk Driving and Child Endangerment Charges....

Recently, a headline from various Minnesota publications - Drunken Mother Led Chase, Her Two Kids in Tow – captured my attention. A Woman had her two sons, ages 2 and 4, in a car and an open bottle of rum in a diaper bag when she led police on a chase last week in western Hennepin County, police said Wednesday. 

This is, indeed, a tragic situation. In 2008, 7 percent of children age 14 and younger killed in car crashes were passengers in a car with a drunken driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Hennepin County alone usually sees three to four cases a year involving a parent who has been drinking and is driving with child/children in the car. 

Please note, that merely being charged with child endangerment has consequences that are much more severe than a drunk driving conviction, which are potential loss of license, potential jail, fines, probation, etc. If child endangerment charges are filed, it’s possible for child protection to become involved and, in extreme cases, the state can take away a parents’ children

If you are facing similar charges,



If you are facing these types of charges, Ramsay Law Firm has and continues to represent many cases like this; we realize our clients underlying chemical dependency issues that helped to cause a situation like this and our goal is to help beat the charges or minimize the consequences.

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The Crime, Science and Information Show with Christine Funk - featuring Mr. Charles Ramsay