Are the Courts Ignoring Your Fourth Amendment Rights?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution guarantee your right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Once upon a time, the word “justice” in “criminal justice system” owed the lion’s share of its value to this fundamental American principal. Unfortunately, due to any number of compelling reasons, we have allowed the government to slowly pick away at our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights. Recently, the United States Supreme Court delivered another blow to the already decimated protections of the Fourth Amendment. As I will explain below, that decision could have a significant impact on how the Minnesota Supreme Court will come down on the cto current Minnesota DWI laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court Says It’s Unreasonable To Expect Police Officers To Know the Law

On December 15, 2014 the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Heien v. North Carolina. The case asked the Supreme Court to consider whether a police officer’s misunderstanding of North Carolina traffic laws could provide probable cause for a traffic stop. The Officer in this case pulled over Heien because one of Heien’s tail lights was out. However, North Carolina’s statute does not require both tail lights be operational. Heien argued that because the Officer was incorrect about the law, the Officer had no probable cause to pull him over. The Fourth Amendment requires police have probable cause before searching or seizing so if Hein’s argument was successful, any evidence obtained by the stop would be excluded from trial because the stop was unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court held reasonable mistakes of law can provide the basis for probable cause. As such, Heien’s Fourth Amendment Rights were not violated when the Officer pulled him over.

What does this ruling mean for the average American? Essentially, it says that in places where you would usually expect privacy, it is now unreasonable for you to expect privacy if the cops are sufficiently ignorant of the law. Suppose for instance, you are driving your car in Minneapolis and you have one ear bud in as you listen to a podcast on your phone. You’ve researched the law to make sure you are following the rules, so you expect not to be bothered by law enforcement for your actions. A Minneapolis police officer initiates a traffic stop and states that you’ve been pulled over for violating Minnesota Traffic Regulation 169.471 for driving with headphones in. The officer asks to search your car. You agree. The officer finds pot in your car and arrests you. However, the officer should never have stopped you in the first place because he is is wrong about the law. Minnesota Statute 169.471 allows you to have a headphone in one ear, just not both. Apparently, it would be unreasonable for you to avoid being search by police just because you are following the law.

A Trend Towards Ignoring the Fourth Amendment

Unfortunately, the deterioration of our Fourth Amendment Rights isn’t just coming from the United States Supreme Court. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s upcoming decisions in State v. Larson, State v. Lindquist, and State v. Bernard have the potential to shrink the playground even further by upholding the constitutionality of Minnesota’s Implied Consent regime. In Lindquist, the Minnesota Supreme Court will decide whether criminalizing a person’s refusal to test after a DWI arrest, is constitutional. In Larson, the Court will determine whether Minnesota will adopt the “good-faith” exception to the rule that the State cannot use evidence in court if it obtained that evidence through unconstitutional means. This is often referred to as the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine. If the “good faith” exception is accepted, cops, like the one in Heien, would be able to claim that although they violated a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights by conducting a warrantless search (a breath, blood, or alcohol test), the evidence should be admissible because the officer was unaware that the violation occurred. I can tell you without a doubt that no police office arresting people for DWI are ignorant of the challenges to the constitutionality of warrantless DWI testing. Rather, they decide, nearly everytime, to take forego a search warrant in the name of efficiency. But efficiency is not a constitutional doctrine!

Minnesota DWI Laws Will Soon Change

Local criminal law experts believe that the Minnesota Supreme Court will declare Minnesota’s criminal punishment of DWI test refusal unconstitutional. While such a decision will strengthen Minnesotan’s right to be free from unreasonable searches, some attorneys also predict that the Supreme Court will adopt the “good-faith” exception. This means that people who have already been charged with the crime of refusal to test will not be able to take advantage of the fact that the law is unconstitutional – leaving hundreds of people with pending criminal cases up the creek without a paddle.

Hopefully the Minnesota Supreme Court makes its decision based on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and not their reluctance ruffle feathers. The correct ruling would strike down Minnesota’s law criminalizing DWI test refusal and refuse to adopt the “good-faith” exception.

Aggressive Minnesota DWI Attorneys (Minnesota DUI Attorneys)

Regardless of the outcome it’s important to understand your Fourth Amendment Rights. If you are pulled over on suspicion of DWI you will have an important decision to make, whether or not to consent to testing in a DWI case. In short, it is usually best to take the test. Here is why. Under Minnesota’s DWI laws, refusing to submit to the test in itself is a gross misdemeanor. If it is your first DWI and there are no aggravating factors, the underlying DWI is considered a misdemeanor. As its own crime, refusing to take the test is often very easy for a prosecutor to prove at trial. In addition to the consequences of the criminal DWI case, your license will be revoked for a period of one year.

When you are arrested in Minnesota for DWI, you will be given an opportunity to contact a DWI attorney for a consultation. But, because refusal is a crime, a Minnesota DWI attorney is not permitted to instruct clients to refuse the test. In other words, criminal defense attorneys are not allowed to counsel a client to commit a crime. However, it is still best to take advantage of the opportunity to contact a Minnesota DWI lawyer. A DWI attorney can advise you on what possible consequences you are facing and what steps you can take to ensure the reliability of the blood alcohol test. For instance, an experienced Minnesota DWI attorney might recommend privately obtaining a separate test at your own expense.