The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that it is unconstitutional to charge someone with refusing to submit to a urine test in a DWI case in State v. Thompson. The decision came the same day as the court’s decision in State v. Trahan which ruled that it is also unconstitutional to charge someone with refusing to submit to a blood test in a DWI case.
In Thompson, Chief Justice Gildea was skeptical that urine testing could possibly be considered as physically invasive to one’s privacy as sticking a needle in one’s arm for a blood draw. In that sense, the Chief Justice thought urine tests were pretty similar to breath tests because a urine test doesn’t involve the piercing of the skin and everyone eventually has to go to the bathroom.
The Chief Justice did, however, find it concerning that a urine test places in the hands of police “a sample that can be preserved and from which it is possible to extract information beyond a simple alcohol concentration reading.” Because a urine test can tell the police much more about you than just whether you have alcohol in your system, such as whether you are pregnant, diabetic, or epileptic, the test is much more comparable to a blood draw than it is to a breath sample. Since the United States Supreme Court already held that warrantless blood draws are unconstitutional, the same logic should apply to warrantless urine tests.
Even more concerning, however, to the Chief Justice, is the embarrassment associated with performing a private bodily function in front of a police officer. While urine testing is not more physically intrusive than blood testing, it involves a much greater privacy invasion in terms of embarrassment, which was the strongest factor in the opinion of the court that urine testing “implicates weighty concerns.”
The remaining issues were quickly put to bed after the court determined that conducting a urine test without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. A warrantless search of urine cannot qualify as a search incident to a valid arrest; and the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule was not available to the State because Thompson was not seeking to exclude any evidence used against him. In sum, the Thompson decision is a huge victory for everyone suspected of committing a DWI.
Matthew B. Trevor recently graduated summa cum laude from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. There, he was an Assistant Editor on Law Review; participated in Rosalie E. Wahl Moot Court; received CALI Awards for Criminal Law and Constitutional Law; and was a William Mitchell Fellow. Mr. Trevor also clerked for the Washington County Public Defender’s Office, the Appellate Office for the Minnesota Public Defender, and the United States Attorney’s Office. Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer; Criminal Defense Lawyers St. Paul MN; and Minnesota DUI lawyer.
 Warrantless breath tests are constitutional and refusal can lead to criminal penalties.