Supreme Court Looks into Laws that Penalize Alcohol Test Refusal

By: Jeff Coy
Photo By: Juan Tello on Flickr
     Reuters Legal tweeted an article about the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to rule on the legality of laws that penalize people who refuse to take an alcohol test when suspected of drunk driving. These laws cover urine, breath, and blood tests. The Court agreed to this rule last week and will hear oral arguments in early spring, with a ruling due by the end of June.
     The Court will be hearing three related appeals from drivers who refused to take alcohol test in Minnesota and North Dakota. There are currently 13 states that have such laws. In all three cases, the lower courts upheld the state laws.
     The lawyers who are defending the drivers say the laws violate the Fourth Amendment, because the police are not obtaining a warrant before enforcing such tests. Lawyers for the states say the laws only apply when someone has already been arrested for drunk driving and refuses to take an alcohol test.
     In North Dakota, the law causes any person who refuses to take an alcohol test to be with a misdemeanor offense. In Minnesota, a conviction could lead up to seven years in prison and a fine up to $14,000.

     This last February, in a ruling that rejected driver William Robert Bernard’s challenge, the Minnesota Supreme Court said: “charging Bernard with criminal test refusal does not implicate a fundamental right.”

It’s difficult to guess what the Supreme Court will do in these cases. The Fourth Amendment gives people the right to be secure in their person. If a police officer has probable cause of pulling someone over because they have a reason to believe a person is drunk driving they may do so. Officers have the right to detain someone until they have a reason to assure a driver is drunk or sober. This does not give them the right to search the drivers car or person unless there is further probable cause. I’m pretty sure an officer would have the right to detain a driver while a warrant is obtained from a judge. This takes time but could be reasonable in order to avoid unconstitutional searches. In 2013, the Supreme Court limited the ability of police to take involuntary blood samples of suspected drunk drivers without a search warrant. The laws in question penalize people who refuse to take alcohol test which may include urine, breath, or blood. This will most likely demand changes to laws covering blood tests. If a person is already arrested, there may be no need to further search them unless it’s a Terry frisk for safety purposes. According to the state lawyers, the laws are for people already arrested for drunk driving. This may be to assure someone is drunk or for even documentation purposes. In which cases a warrant would always assure a constitutional test. Officers may want to obtain a warrant as soon as possible to an accurate BAC level. Much is at conflict in these cases.

Sources:

Reuters

Findlaw.com

Law.cornell.edu

 

 

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