Supreme Court Rules that Blood Alcohol Concentration Irrelevant to DWI Offense Where Urine Test Conducted

In a decision that completely avoided the real issue, the Supreme Court ruled in State v. Herman Tanksley, Jr. that blood alcohol concentration is irrelevant to a DWI charge of driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more when the State seeks to prove the offense using only the evidence of the amount of alcohol in the defendant’s urine.

Tanksley was charged with misdemeanor driving while under the influence, and misdemeanor driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, as measured within 2 hours of the time of driving, after he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. A urine test was conducted after his arrest, and the test results came back at 0.13.

Tanksely filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the urine test results. Tanksley’s argument was that the urine test in Minnesota, which uses a person’s first-void, is unreliable, inaccurate, and not generally accepted in the scientific community because of urine pooling. Since Minnesota uses the first-void urine sample, the alcohol concentration in a person’s urine may be vastly different from the alcohol concentration in a person’s blood at the time of testing because any of the alcohol the person has consumed remains in his or her bladder until the bladder is emptied. An example of the pooling argument is that a person could become intoxicated one evening, and then wake in the morning totally sober, but if the person has not emptied his or her bladder, a urine sample would be inaccurate because it would reveal the person was still intoxicated. Tanksley’s request for a hearing to challenge the urine test results and the scientific reliability was denied by the district court on the finding that the State is only required to prove that Tanksley’s test results were 0.08 or more under any approved method of alcohol concentration testing.

Tanksley was found guilty of the offense of driving with an alcohol concentration over 0.08, and appealed his conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reasoned that Tanksley should have been given a hearing on the admissibility of the urine test results, but that the district court’s error was harmless because the Minnesota Court of Appeals previously ruled that first-void urine testing was scientifically reliable in State v. Edstrom, 792 N.W.2d 105 (Minn. App. 2010).

The Minnesota Supreme Court, in agreeing with the district court, concluded that since there are three accepted ways to measure alcohol concentration (blood, breath, or urine testing), as long as one of the approved methods of testing is used, the State is not required to determine if an alternative method of testing would have produced different results. The State only needs to show that the defendant’s alcohol concentration within 2 hours of driving was at or above 0.08. The urine test results that were obtained within 2 hours of Tanksley driving showed an alcohol concentration of 0.13; therefore, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Tanksley’s conviction.

The Minnesota Supreme Court completely skirted addressing the issue in this case, which is the accuracy of urine testing. It is generally scientifically accepted blood testing is the most accurate way to ascertain alcohol concentration as, unlike breath testing, other outside factors less often interfere with the test results, and, unlike urine testing, alcohol in a person’s blood stream dissipates after a period of time. At the heart of Tanksley’s appeals was the idea that these different testing methods should essentially yield the same or very similar results. However, the Minnesota Supreme Court simply decided that the State only has to produce test results that were taken within 2 hours of driving and that are over the legal limit. Since the State has no duty to prove Tanksley would have been at or over 0.08 if a blood or breath test had been taken instead, there was no need to consider Tanksley’s blood alcohol concentration and whether it correlated with his urine test results.

A DWI is an enhanceable offense, meaning the more you have, the more serious the consequences. A DWI offense is not limited to a criminal matter either, it also affects your driver’s license status, insurance premiums, and very often your license plates, ability to keep your vehicle, and job security just to name a few. Make sure you know your rights. Contact a Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer today.

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Categories: Criminal Defense, DWI