In: Criminal Defense

Supreme Court issues ruling on breath, blood test refusal laws

Search and seizure issues are important to explore in building a strong DUI defense case. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, of course, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and there is a well-developed body of case law regarding what law enforcement officers can and cannot do with searches and seizures.

That body of case law continues to grow with a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month which held that the Fourth Amendment prohibits states from imposing criminal penalties on motorists who refuse to submit to warrantless blood testing under state implied consent laws. The common factor with these implied consent laws is that drivers are presumed to have consented to chemical testing in advance by virtue of having a license, but laws vary from state to state in terms of penalties for refusal to submit. Texas

The recent decision, while holding that criminal penalties may not be imposed for refusal to submit to warrantless blood testing, does permit criminal penalties for refusal to submit to breath testing. The rationale for the ruling is that breath testing is a less invasive procedure and so it is not unreasonable for states to punish breath test refusal with criminal penalties.

Some legal experts have commented that the ruling could possibly lead to more DUI convictions under per se impaired driving laws, particularly among younger drivers who don’t know their rights. This refers to the law in most states that drivers found to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more are presumed to be intoxicated while driving. An increase in such convictions could occur if states take the recent decision as a green light from the Supreme Court to impose criminal penalties for breath test refusal, or if law enforcement ramps up use of breath testing.

In a future post, we’ll look at the issue of breath test refusal and the role of an experienced advocate in helping a defendant navigate the consequences of a DUI arrest.

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