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Johnson v. Commissioner of Public Safety

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

November 7, 2016

Tyler Lee Johnson, petitioner, Respondent,
v.
Commissioner of Public Safety, Appellant.

         Chisago County District Court File No. 13-CV-15-829

         Affirmed

          Brian M. Glodosky, Kelsey Law Office, P.A., Cambridge, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Cory Beth Monnens, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         1. If a person challenges the accuracy of an implied-consent advisory as a violation of due process, the claim should be analyzed under the Due Process Clause, consistent with Minnesota precedent.

         2. An implied-consent advisory violates due process when it threatens a criminal test-refusal charge that the state is not authorized to impose.

          OPINION

          LARKIN, Judge

         Appellant challenges the district court's order rescinding the revocation of respondent's license to drive under Minnesota's implied-consent law. The district court rescinded the revocation based on its conclusion that the implied-consent advisory in this case misinformed respondent regarding the potential criminal penalty for refusing to submit to a urine test and therefore violated his right to due process. We affirm.

         FACTS

         On November 9, 2015, a North Branch police officer responded to the scene of a single-vehicle collision. Respondent Tyler Lee Johnson had driven through an intersection and crashed into a tree. As Johnson exited the vehicle, the officer observed a large, unmarked bottle between the driver's seat and the vehicle's center console, which appeared to contain an assortment of pills. Johnson informed the officer that the pill bottle was his. Based on Johnson's performance on field sobriety tests, the officer suspected that Johnson was under the influence of some kind of narcotic or medication, but the officer did not suspect alcohol use. The officer arrested Johnson for driving while impaired (DWI).

         The officer transported Johnson to a local emergency room. At the hospital, the officer read Johnson an implied-consent advisory, informing him that Minnesota law required him to take a test to determine if he was under the influence of alcohol or a hazardous or controlled substance and that he had the right to speak with an attorney before deciding whether to take a test. The officer also informed Johnson that refusal to take a urine test is a crime. The officer later testified that he specified urine testing when advising Johnson that failure to take a test is a crime "[b]ecause the new policy of refusal to take a urine test was [the police department's] guidance from the county attorney's office at [the] time."

         Johnson spent over an hour attempting to contact an attorney before the officer asked Johnson to submit to a urine test. Johnson indicated that he wanted to consult an attorney. The officer asked Johnson if he would take a blood test. Johnson once again indicated that he wanted to consult an attorney. The officer did not request a breath test because he did not suspect that Johnson was under the influence of alcohol. Johnson did not submit to either a urine or blood test.

         Appellant Commissioner of Public Safety revoked Johnson's license to drive based on his refusal to submit to a chemical test. Johnson petitioned the district court for rescission of the license revocation. Johnson claimed that his right to due process was violated because the officer did not properly inform him of the consequences of test refusal. The district court rescinded the revocation of Johnson's license to drive, relying on McDonnell v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 473 N.W.2d 848, 855 (Minn. 1991). The district court reasoned that the implied-consent advisory violated Johnson's right to due process by inaccurately informing him that refusal to take a urine test is a crime when Johnson "could not have been criminally charged for refusing an unconstitutional search." This appeal follows.

         ISSUES

         I. Should Johnson's due-process challenge to the implied-consent advisory in this case be analyzed as a due-process claim or a Fourth Amendment claim?

         II. Did the district court correctly conclude that the implied-consent advisory violated Johnson's right to due process by threatening a criminal charge the state was not authorized to impose and that he therefore is entitled to rescission of the revocation of his license to drive?

         ANALYSIS

         Under Minnesota's implied-consent law, any person who drives a motor vehicle in the state "consents . . . to a chemical test of that person's blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol, a controlled substance or its metabolite, or a hazardous substance" when certain conditions are met. Minn. Stat. § 169A.51, subd. 1(a) (2014). For example, a test is required if an officer has probable cause to believe that a person was driving while impaired and the person has been lawfully arrested for DWI or involved in a motor-vehicle accident or collision resulting in property damage or personal injury. Id., subd. 1(b)(1), (2) (2014).

         If a test is requested under the implied-consent law, the person subject to testing must be told that "Minnesota law requires the person to take a test . . . to determine if the person is under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or hazardous substances." Id., subd. 2(a)(1) (2014). The person also must be told that "refusal to take a test is a crime" and that "the person has the right to consult with an attorney, but that this right is limited to the extent that it cannot unreasonably delay administration of the test." Id., subd. 2(a)(2), (4) (2014). If there is probable cause to believe the person has violated the criminal-vehicular-homicide-and-injury laws, the person must also be told that "a test will be taken with or without the person's consent." Id., subd. 2(a)(3) (2014).

         "If a person refuses to permit a test" under Minnesota's implied-consent law, "then a test must not be given." Minn. Stat. § 169A.52, subd. 1 (2014). However, if the person refuses to submit to a test, the commissioner must revoke the person's license to drive. Id., subd. 3 (2014).

         The issue in this case is whether an implied-consent advisory violates a person's right to due process by informing the person that refusal to take a urine test is a crime when a criminal test-refusal charge would be unconstitutional. Resolution of this issue requires us to answer the following questions: (1) is Johnson's due-process challenge to the advisory in this case properly analyzed as a due-process claim or a Fourth Amendment claim and (2) was the advisory in this case misleading such that it violates due process under McDonnell v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, in which the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that an implied-consent advisory violated due process because it misinformed a person subject to testing under Minnesota's implied-consent law that she could be charged with the crime of test refusal when such a charge was impossible. 473 N.W.2d at 855. We address each issue in turn.

         I.

         We begin with the commissioner's argument that the Fourth Amendment, and not due process, provides the proper analytical framework for Johnson's challenge to the implied-consent advisory in this case. The commissioner asserts that Johnson has raised a substantive-due-process claim and that the claim is covered by the Fourth Amendment. The commissioner therefore contends that we should analyze the claim only under the Fourth Amendment.

         The commissioner relies on State v. Mellett, in which this court stated, "if a claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision, that claim must be analyzed according to the standards established by the specific provision, and not as a possible violation of the claimant's substantive-due-process rights." 642 N.W.2d 779, 783 (Minn.App. 2002). The quoted text from Mellett is based on a discussion in County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 118 S.Ct. 1708 (1998). Id. In Lewis, the United States Supreme Court explained that:

Because we have always been reluctant to expand the concept of substantive due process, . . . [w]here a particular Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of government behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of ...

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