State v. Tanksley: Minnesota Supreme Court Decision Doesn’t Tank Issue of DWI Urine Testing

 

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision today in the case of State v. Tanksley. In this case, the Court held that the appellant was not entitled to a first-prong Frye-Mack hearing to contest the scientific reliability of first-void urine alcohol tests (F-VUAT), stating that appellant had not properly raised a “relevant reason for holding a [Frye-Mack] hearing” and denying Tanksley’s attempt to raise further arguments for the first time on appeal. On these facts, the Supreme Court held that the general acceptance of F-VUAT testing by the scientific community was irrelevant when someone was charged with the per se crime of driving with an alcohol concentration over .08g per 67 mL of urine.

At first blush, this decision is a harsh blow to anyone charged with a DWI based upon widely-discredited F-VUAT tests. However, Tanksley is as important for what it does say as for what it does not.

This decision makes it clear that our courts will not subject F-VUAT tests to the scrutiny of the fist-half of the Frye-Mack test. But remember . . . the Frye-Mack standard asks two questions. First it asks if a test has gained “general acceptance” (for the last time, it certainly has not, but the Court has ruled that the very question is irrelevant). Secondly, and most importantly, the Frye-Mack test asks whether or not the test has foundational reliability. Those two words are some of the most loaded words in the legal language, and go to the heart of our argument against F-VUAT testing.  And that question – “Does F-VUAT testing have foundational reliability?” – was never even addressed by counsel for Tanksley and thus was not addressed in the Tanksley decision.

We have that very question up on appeal, and are prepared to argue it to the Supreme Court in the wake of the Tanksley decision. And while the Tanksley decision made it clear that their decision was based upon a fear that any other ruling would force them to “add an element to the alcohol-concentration offense that is not present, ” our challenge to the foundational reliability of F-VUAT tests has nothing to do with statutory language. In other words, challenging the foundational reliability of a F-VUAT urine test does not hinge on the criminalization of .08g of alcohol per 67 mL of urine; instead, the challenge is based upon how we reach that .08 threshold. And the scientific community makes one thing clear – that foundational reliability requires a second void.

Although the Tanksley decision answered one question, it left another one wide open . . . meaning that F-VUAT tests haven’t yet seen the end of their troubles in court.

 

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