Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Minnesota DWI Lawyer Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is   State v. Tanksley,  (Decided February 8, 2012) a Minnesota Supreme Court Case which stands for the proposition that, if you have been arrested for a DWI, you should   always,   always   choose a blood test instead of a urine test.

When a person stops drinking, the ethanol is continuously being removed from the individual's blood by their metabolism. The ethanol ends up in a person’s urine, which is a waste product excreted by the kidneys. The urine, containing the ethanol, accumulates in the bladder until the person voids.Little or no oxidation of the ethanol occurs in the bladder and can result in abnormally high urine alcohol concentrations being obtained from the first void. Or to quote from A.W. Jones:

“The length of time that urine is stored in the bladder before voiding is also an important consideration because ethanol is continuously being removed from the blood by metabolism, but no oxidation of ethanol occurs in the bladder. This situation results in abnormally high UAC to BAC ratios being obtained for the first void.” Reference Limits for Urine/Blood Ratios of Ethanol in Two Successive Voids from Drinking Drivers. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Vol. 26, p. 333 (September 2002).

If a person has not done a first void, there is no relationship or correlation between the amount of alcohol in a person’s urine and the amount actually in their blood. 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 the only place that does not have any promulgated rules for administering or collecting a urine test. Other states, that don’t prohibit urine testing for alcohol concentration by statute or rule, have all promulgated some rules at least for the proper administration of the test!

So even though a first-void urine test result has no support whatsoever in the scientific community, the BCA has approved of its use and in Tanksley the Minnesota Supreme Court approved of the practice.

The District Court in Tanksley, held that the State does not have to prove that the defendant's urine alcohol level accurately reflected his blood alcohol level and therefore the "pooling effect" of a first-void sample is irrelevant.  The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the District Court stating:

"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. *   *   *"

"Put another way, even if we were to assume that the correlation between first-void urine test results and blood alcohol concentration is weak, as Tanksley argues, evidence of that fact would have not effect on the determination of whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Tanksley's  urine  alcohol concentration was at or above .08 grams per 67 milliliters of urine within 2 hours of driving, operating, or physically controlling a motor vehicle.  Therefore, the district court was not required to hold a [hearing] to decide the merit of Tanksley's criticism because a lack of correlation to blood alcohol concentration was not relevant to the alcohol-concentration offense."

The problem with the Supreme Court's opinion is that it ignores what the Minnesota DWI Statutes are designed to punish, namely drunk drivers.  The urine and breath alcohol ratios contained in the statute are designed to match the blood alcohol ratio of grams of alcohol per milliliters of blood.  A person with a pooled urine alcohol level of .12 could easily be as sober as a person with a blood alcohol level of .04.  But the urine-alcohol defendant is punished while the blood-alcohol defendant would go free.

MORAL OF THE STORY:  Never submit to a urine test.  Always exercise your right to have a blood test done instead.  At least the blood test will be accurate and not overstate your alcohol concentration level.

F.T. Sessoms, Minnesota DWI Attorney, Minnesota DUI Lawyer, Minneapolis DWI Attorney, Minneapolis DUI Lawyer