Michael Richardson, Michael Freeman (Hennepin County Attorney’s Office), Todd Zettler, Patrick Ciliberto (Scott County Attorney’s Office)
Last fall, a heated DWI case ended up in Minnesota’s Supreme Court, where the court ruled that Wesley Brooks of Prior Lake agreed to provide the blood and urine samples that became the key evidence in each of his three drunken-driving convictions. It was a tricky issue, since Brooks maintained that he didn’t have a choice because refusing to provide those samples is a crime in Minnesota.
For the team of attorneys that represented Hennepin and Scott counties in the case, it was an invigorating, challenging case to work on.
“For an appellate lawyer, it was about as good as it gets: a cutting-edge issue impacted by changing technology,” said Todd Zettler, assistant Scott County Attorney, who worked on the case. “Just fascinating.”
The Brooks ruling showed how Minnesota law could be affected by Missouri vs. McNeely, an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision that said police officers must try to get a search warrant for a blood sample if they want it to hold up in court. Brooks had argued that police should have obtained a search warrant before taking the samples, but the court determined that warrants weren’t necessary in his case because he agreed to provide the samples after being read the implied-consent law.
Mike Richardson, assistant Hennepin County Attorney, said the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision was like a great novel – “It gets better the more times I read it,” he said.
“Why did the Supreme Court just deal with the fact that he consented?” asked Richardson. “Did his consent take it outside the parameters of McNeely? They said yes. They did discuss two other issues: Is the implied consent issue unconstitutional?”
The court also dealt with the issue of whether refusal or consent can ever be truly voluntary.
“They disagreed with that, as we do,” said Richardson. “They said the reason it wasn’t overly coercive is that the motorist has a choice. Submit or refuse. When you have a choice, it doesn’t mean that both options are coercive, it means neither is coercive.”
At the time of the ruling, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told Minnesota Lawyer that the court “essentially said that is the proper way to handle drunk driving cases. If that process is followed, we prosecutors should be able to convict those with blood alcohol levels over the legal limit and not worry about the cases being overturned or thrown out.”
As for what the ruling will mean for the issue of implied consent going forward, Zettler maintains that it’s too soon to tell. “Other than the defense is going to continue to challenge it, I don’t know how that argument is going to go,” he said.