Minnesota Court of Appeals Discusses Consent in a Post Brooks World

Posted On January 28, 2014 by Daniel Koewler

Yesterday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued its first decision in the wake of State v. Brooks. It was the case of State v. Drum, and you can read it here.

This latest decision is "unpublished" meaning the decision does not bind other judges or other cases - in a sense, the decision only really matters to Mr. Drum himself. But in another sense, it proves a chilling reminder of just how far down the rabbit hole Minnesota has gone with respect to how our courts define the word "consent."

The Drum decision attempts to clarify the decision in Brooks, and states that "as a matter of law" there is nothing coercive about telling someone that if they don't "freely and voluntarily consent" to a search they will be committing a new crime, right there, in front of a police officer. Law enforcement agents obtained incriminating evidence against Drum, evidence that cannot be obtained without a warrant, by "convincing" him to waive his constitutional right to that warrant . . . and they did it by telling him he'd be committing a brand new crime if he didn't hurry up and waive his rights. Some members of the Court of Appeals have interpreted this type of situation to constitute "free and voluntary" consent as a matter of law.

What's particularly troubling is that in this particular case, the government attorney actually conceded (admitted) that it was not arguing that Mr. Drum consented - the government basically told the Court during oral arguments that there was no consent in this case. Despite this concession, the Court still found that Drum "freely and voluntarily" consented.

Shortly after the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the rule that DWI tests do, in fact, require warrants, we speculated about the changes Minnesota would have to make to our own DWI laws to make sure that drivers were not being coerced into "consenting" to warrantless searches. Back then, we had no idea that Minnesota judges would actually consider threats to charge people with new crimes as non-coercive. While contrary to standard logic and a lot of prior case law, this approach does have the benefit of not having to amend any laws to conform with the Constitution.

But if you read the Drum decision, pay close attention to the last couple of paragraphs, where the Court of Appeals provided a . . . friendly reminder . . . to the attorney to keep things civil. It appears that the attorney that argued the Drum case was fairly frank in his opinions regarding the merits of the Brooks decision, to a degree that alarmed the Court of Appeals. Whether he went too far or not is not for us to say, but we already know that other judges also feel the exact same way, and have also expressed some fairly frank opinions regarding the Brooks decision.

Minnesota is turning into a bubbling pot, just short of a rolling boil, as more and more drivers "consent" to give up their Constitutional rights under the dual threat of being told they are "required by law" to give up their rights and that if they don't give up their rights, they're committing a brand new crime.

Right here, right now, both myself and Mr. Ramsay have no intention of holding back in our attacks against these "consensual" tests. When something is so contrary to common sense, so contrary to decades of prior United States Supreme Court cases, and so contrary to our client's interests, it would be impossible to sleep at night without knowing that we put 100% of our effort, experience, and enthusiasm into attacking these warrantless searches from every angle.

This isn't just about drunk drivers - not anymore. It's about government agents handcuffing, arresting, and taking Minnesotans to jail, then telling them that they are required by law to waive a constitutional right, and then telling them that if they don't waive that right they are committing a crime . . . and then, months later, being told that they "freely and voluntarily" waived that constitutional right like good citizens. There is still ample room to challenge this type of Orwellian conduct; there has to be, because the alternative would leave us living in a world that no free man or woman would want to be a part of. Every Minnesotan - even those who never touch a drop of alcohol - is affected by what is going on in our courts right now, and every Minnesotan needs good defense attorneys to use every means at their disposal to fight against this type of government conduct.