The Minnesota Case of the week is the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision of State v. Wicklund (Opinion Issued January 26, 2010). I was the attorney for the Defendant in this case and the decision stands for the proposition that the police "policy" of collecting a blood or urine sample from a driver, whenever an accident involving serious injury or death occurs, violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Brent Wicklund caused a fatal multi-vehicle accident after the brakes on his box truck failed and he attempted to stop by driving into a raised concrete median that separated the opposing lanes of a multi-lane highway. Mr. Wicklund's truck did not stop; it jumped the median, entered oncoming traffic, and struck and fatally injured a motorcyclist.
The police arrived and based upon the nature of the accident and nothing more, compelled Mr. Wicklund to provide a urine sample for drug testing. The police did not observe Mr. Wicklund exhibit any indication of drug or alcohol consumption. But it was the policy of the Plymouth Police Department to test a driver whenever there is the possibility of criminal vehicular homicide.
The urine test result revealed the presence of amphetamine and methamphetamine and as a result, Mr. Wicklund was charged with Criminal Vehicular Homicide.
I moved, in the district court, to suppress the results of the urine test arguing that the police lacked probable cause to obtain a urine sample from Mr. Wicklund. The district court held that the results were admissible because the police had probable cause to believe that the crime of criminal vehicular operation had occurred and that obtaining a blood or urine sample would aid in the prosecution of the crime.
I subsequently appealed the district court's decision and Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with my contention that there was nothing specific to Mr. Wicklund that would justify a search of his bodily fluids.
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals noted, "The State can justify the warrantless testing of a driver's body fluids if the officer who took the sample had probable cause to believe both (1) that the driver committed the crime of criminal vehicular operation and (2) that the administration of the test would aid in the prosecution of that crime. State v. Lee, 585 N.W.2d 378, 381 (Minn. 1998) citing State v. Speak, 339 N.W.2d 741, 745 (Minn. 1983). We interpret the second prong narrowly and hold that the state's showing is insufficient."
The Court went on the explain that, "Looking only to this language apart from the restraint of other search-and-seizure caselaw, police might mistakenly conclude that they may test any driver involved in a bodily-injury traffic accident, because one might reason that in every case testing would be 'relevant' and 'aid in the prosecution' by either ruling out guilt or ruling in guilt. Because we do not interpret the Speak-Lee standard as overturning or eroding the traditional probable-cause standard for police searches, however, we must also apply the traditional standard here."
"Probable cause to search exists when, given the totality of the circumstances, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place. * * * The facts and circumstances known to the police to justify a warrantless extraction of body fluids, therefore, must support a reasonable belief that testing will disclose some amount of alcohol or drugs in the defendant's body. That amount need not be a level of intoxication, but the circumstances must be sufficient to indicate the likelihood of a positive test result."
In the present case, "Officer Anderson was aware of no circumstances indicating even non-intoxicating levels of chemical consumption. He noticed no alcoholic odor or signs of physical impairment, and he was aware of no facts suggesting that Wicklund had recent access to drugs or alcohol. The preliminary breath test indicated no alcohol use. This does not end the inquiry, because in Speak and Lee the supreme court declined to hold that police must observe customary physical indicia of intoxication before testing a driver's body fluids. They indicate that evidence of extreme misjudgment alone might provide the probable-cause basis for testing a driver for drug or alcohol use."
"All Officer Anderson knew when he required Wicklund to provide a urine sample was that Wicklund had been having trouble with his brakes, which ultimately failed, leading Wicklund to make a split-second decision either to ram the vehicle stopped ahead in his lane or to attempt to slow his truck and avoid a collision by some other means. Wicklund decided to try to slow the truck using friction against the median. Although in hindsight we clearly see that this decision was flawed because it averted one crash only to cause another, it is not the kind of extremely irrational choice that demonstrates that alcohol or a controlled substance affected Wicklund's judgment or driving ability. Had Wicklund failed to recognize the stopped car, or to apply his brakes, or to take evasive action to avoid a collision with the car in front of him, he might have demonstrated the kind of inattentiveness or gross misjudgment that supports involuntary testing without the observable indicia of intoxication. At worst, his late response to traffic conditions created a dilemma leading to his deadly split-second decision." * * *
"Although the state learned in retrospect that Wicklund in fact had consumed a controlled substance, we must consider only the circumstances know to Officer Anderson. On those circumstances, the district court was bound to exclude Wicklund's urine test results because the test was unconstitutional. The district court erred by denying Wicklund's motion to suppress the test results."
The Court of Appeals then reversed the conviction as all the relevant evidence has now been excluded.
F.T. Sessoms, Minnesota DWI Attorney, Minnesota DUI Lawyer, Minneapolis DWI Attorney, Minneapolis DUI Lawyer
Attached is the Media's Reaction to the Decision: