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Supreme Court hears arguments on warrantless DUI testing

On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over the legality of state laws in Minnesota and North Dakota that make it a separate crime when drivers who have been suspected of DUI refuse a blood, urine or breath test when police do not have a search warrant. Eleven other states have similar laws, although Florida makes it a separate misdemeanor only on a second or subsequent offense.

All 50 states have implied consent laws, which mean that all licensed drivers agree to take a blood alcohol test when police have probable cause to believe they are impaired. However, in most states a refusal only leads to a license suspension or other administrative penalties. Challengers to the laws argue that it is unconstitutional to make refusing a blood alcohol test a separate crime if there is no warrant. The states counter that the laws prevent drunk driving fatalities.

During arguments, the high court seemed to side with the challengers, with several justices questioning why it is a problem to obtain a warrant before taking a sample of a driver's breath, blood or urine. They pointed out that many states have judges available for warrant requests 24 hours a day. However, some court observers noted that the justices may be looking for a compromise that would require a warrant for a blood test but not for breathalyzer tests. The court is expected to hand down a decision in June.

Drivers charged with a DUI could face severe consequences upon conviction, including jail time, fines and the loss of driving privileges. However, a criminal defense attorney could review the facts and come up with a strategy to combat the charges, such as challenging whether there was probable cause to make the traffic stop that led to the arrest.

Source: USA Today, "Supreme Court skeptical of drunken-driving breath tests without warrants," Richard Wolf, April 20, 2016

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