A recent ruling by the US Supreme Court in Birchfield v. North Dakota determined that part of the State’s implied consent laws proved to be unconstitutional.
North Dakota’s implied consent laws previously required drivers to submit to chemical blood tests after a DUI arrest regardless of whether or not officers had a search warrant. But the new Supreme Court ruling means that police officers must now obtain a warrant in order to require drivers to submit to blood tests following a DWI arrest.
About The Birchfield v. North Dakota Case
For decades, implied consent laws have made it a crime for drivers to refuse to submit to chemical breath and blood tests after being lawfully arrested on DUI-related charges. This was the case even if police officers did not have an official court-issued search warrant to obtain the chemical tests.
Are Chemical Breath & Blood Tests Unconstitutional?
The Birchfield v. North Dakota case went all the way to the US Supreme Court after several individuals who were prosecuted for refusing chemical testing argued that the implied consent laws, under which they were being prosecuted, were unconstitutional.
Specifically, these individuals argued that implied consent laws were unconstitutional because by violating a citizen’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.
The issue at hand was summarized very well in the introduction of the US Supreme Court’s official opinion given on June 23rd, 2016, which read:
“…all States have laws that prohibit motorists from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds a specified level. But determining whether a driver’s BAC is over the legal limit requires a test, and many drivers stopped on suspicion of drunk driving would not submit to testing if given the option. So every State also has long had what are termed “implied consent laws.” These laws impose penalties on motorists who refuse to undergo testing when there is sufficient reason to believe they are violating the State’s drunk-driving laws. In the past, the typical penalty for noncompliance was suspension or revocation of the motorist’s license. The cases now before us involve laws that go beyond that and make it a crime for a motorist to refuse to be tested after being lawfully arrested for driving while impaired. The question presented is whether such laws violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.”
Decision: Blood Tests Need Warrants, Breath Tests Don’t
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that requiring an individual to submit to chemical blood tests without a warrant does violate the Fourth Amendment, but maintained that warrantless chemical breath tests do not violate the Fourth Amendment.
According to the Supreme Court, the reasoning behind the seemingly contradictory decision is that blood tests are considered to be more intrusive than breath tests.
As a result, an individual suspected of driving under the influence does not have to submit to a blood test if the police officers do not obtain a warrant, but are still required to submit to chemical breath tests regardless of whether or not a warrant is obtained.
Why Is This Important?
The penalties for refusing mandatory chemical testing after a DWI arrest can be quite severe…
In the State of New York, for example, a first refusal charge typically results in a minimum one-year license suspension, as well as expensive fines and fees. It is important to understand that these penalties are in addition to any penalties associated with a DWI-related conviction and your will have your license suspended for refusing to submit to a mandatory chemical test regardless of whether or not you are ultimately convicted of a DWI charge in the end.
Because of the harsh penalties associated with refusing a chemical test, many drivers reluctantly submit to these tests even though the test results often end up being the very evidence that results in their DWI conviction later.
The recent ruling by the US Supreme Court makes it possible for drivers to refuse chemical blood tests, which could potentially result in self-incriminating evidence, if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant.
The ruling will also impact the outcome of thousands of DWI cases currently being tried around the country.
For more interesting articles about DWI news in New York and around the country, check out our blog here.