In some circumstances, criminal suspects may have a right to counsel before they have been arrested. This is generally when the suspect is about to make a decision that will could impair their defense in a critical stage of the case. Is deciding whether to submit to a DUI blood test such a situation? What if the police have a warrant?
The question came up in a recent Minnesota Supreme Court case, and we thought it was an interesting one. Although the Minnesota Supreme Court holds no jurisdiction in Tennessee, courts do look at cases outside their jurisdictions for guidance on novel or unusual issues.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that no, a DUI suspect does not have the right to consult an attorney before deciding whether to comply with a warrant for a blood test. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a warrant is generally required before police can order blood tests on DUI suspects, at least when they are awake.
However, several members of the Minnesota court dissented. They pointed out that the court had previously ruled that a request for a blood alcohol test was a critical stage and said that drivers had a limited right to consult an attorney before submitting to one. The difference in the previous case was that the police had not had a warrant. They felt that the mere presence of a warrant was unlikely to alleviate the legal concerns drivers have about whether to submit to a chemical test.
It should be noted that, in Minnesota, refusal to submit to duly ordered blood, urine or breath test is a criminal offense. Here in Tennessee, drivers can legally refuse the test, although doing so will result in a driver’s license suspension.
Would you want to contact a lawyer before a DUI test?
As we mentioned, refusal to submit to a DUI test is not a crime in Tennessee, so the point of refusal might not be considered a critical stage in your case. That said, losing your driving privileges is quite serious for many people in our state. Tennessee is a hard state to live in if you can’t drive.
Do you think drivers in Tennessee should have the right to consult an attorney before they decide whether to comply with a blood alcohol test?