Written by attorney Maury Devereau Beaulier

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules on Urine Test for DWI cases

The Minnesota Supreme Court decided the case of State v. Tanksley on February 8, 2012. That ruling allows the State to continue using urine tests in DWI cases despite the significantly flawed nature of the test in relationship to intoxication. First, alcohol in the bladder does not impair a person's reactions. They would not necessarily react as if they were under the influence since the alcohol in the bladder does not reflect alcohol introduces at the cellular level. Second, a person's urine alcohol may have little relevance to that person's level of intoxication or blood alcohol levels. After a person stops drinking, ethanol is continuously removed from that individual's blood by their metabolic processes. That ethanol is processed by the body and ends up in a person’s bladder as part of waste excreted by the kidneys. Ethanol in urine may accumulate until the person voids their bladder. During that time, very little oxidation of the ethanol occurs. Oxidation is the process by which alcohol is broken down. The oxidation process is interrupted and slowed by the introduction of alcohol to water. In Minnesota, a first void test is not used. This is the most unreliable method of urine testing. That means drivers suspected of DWI provide a sample of urine that has been stored in the bladder without first clearing the bladder and testing a subsequent sample. It is not at all uncommon for persons to have high levels of alcohol in their urine and very low or no levels of alcohol in their blood. Minnesota is to a great extent, an island. It is the only state without rules and required methodology for administering a urine test, collecting and testing the sample Many states have statutes specifically precluding urine testing for alcohol deeming the test to be unreliable and inaccurate. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court agreed with the State in Tanksley allowing continued use of the significantly flawed urine test. The Court stated that Minnesota's DWI statutes do not require that there is a correlation between the alcohol content of urine and the alcohol content of blood. Instead, the statute requires only that the urine test with a certain level of alcohol regardless of whether that content has any bearing on intoxication. The Minnesota Supreme Court stated, as follows: "The alcohol-concentration offense requires the State to prove two elements. First, the State must establish that the defendant drove, operated, or physically controlled a motor vehicle within the State of Minnesota. Second, the State must prove that the defendant's alcohol concentration was .08 or more at the time, or within 2 hours of the time, the defendant drove, operated, or physically controlled the motor vehicle. Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd.1(5). Minnesota Statutes § 169A.03, subd. 2 (2010), in turn, defines 'alcohol concentration' as: '(1) the number of grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; (2) the number of grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath; or (3) the number of grams of alcohol per 67 milliliters of urine.'" "Whether first-void urine results correlate with blood alcohol concentration is not relelvant to whether the State has proven the two elements of the alcohol-concentration offense. Section 169A.20, subdivision 1(5), requires proof of 'alcohol concentration,' but under the statute, 'alcohol concentration' can be proven by the number of grams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, in 210 liters of breath, or in 67 milliliters of urine. Minn. Stat. § 169A.03, subd. 2. The statute thus provided three methods for proving the requisite alcohol concentration, and does not express a preference for one method over another. * * *" Despite the Supreme Court's ruling, urine testing remains under attack. Experienced DWI attorneys have been requesting Frye-Mack hearings. 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. Before scientific evidence can be presented, the State must prove that: (1) the test has gained general acceptance in the scientific community; and (2) that the test was properly performed.

The laws related to DWI and alcohol testing are always evolving. As a result, you must always consult with an attorney regarding your particular issue.

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