U.S. Supreme Court to Decide: Can Refusing a Breath/Blood Test Be a Crime?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on December 16th, 2015

Three weeks ago, I posted about the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision which held that a motorist suspected of drunk driving could not be criminally prosecuted for refusing to submit to a blood test.  See Is It a Crime to Refuse to Give Blood in a DUI Case?   Two days later, I reported that the Hawaii Supreme Court decided that a DUI suspect’s consent to a breath test was invalid — and the test inadmissible — because it was coerced by the threat of criminal prosecution for refusing.  See State Supreme Court: Punishing Refusal to Submit to Blood Test Voids Consent.  

Doesn’t this amount to charging the driver with a crime for asserting their Constitutional rights?

Last week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review three cases from two states involving this increasingly controversial approach to drunk driving of prosecuting DUI suspects for refusing to take chemical tests.


Supreme Court to Rule on Drunk-Driving Breath Tests

Washington, DC.  Dec. 11 —  Can states charge motorists with a crime for refusing to take a breath test on suspicion of drunk driving when police lack a warrant? The Supreme Court will decide.

The justices agreed Friday to hear cases out of Minnesota and North Dakota in which drivers were charged with a crime after they refused to take "deep-lung" breath tests. Thirteen states make it a crime to refuse blood alcohol tests: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

In addition, California, Mississippi, Missouri and Montana have considered such laws, according to lawyers for the challengers in the Minnesota case.

"Nationwide, it is certain that tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people are subjected to criminal penalties under these statutes every year — and if the arguments presented here are correct, the federal constitutional rights of all of these people are being infringed," their brief to the high court said…

The court ruled in 2013 that police could not conduct blood tests for drunk driving without a warrant. Based on that, the challengers in the Minnesota and North Dakota cases said, refusing such tests should not constitute a separate crime.


Can a DUI suspect be charged with a crime for asserting his constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment — that is, his right not to have his body searched for blood or breath without a warrant? 

The following is an excerpt from an editorial appeared in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:


Sobriety Tests and the Law

…Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide three cases in which motorists suspected of driving drunk are contending that their constitutional rights were violated….May a state criminally prosecute a motorist for refusing to submit to a blood, breath or urine test in the absence of a warrant?…

It seems clear that it’s wrong to criminalize the refusal to submit to a test for which police haven’t obtained a warrant.  Not only do such laws punish suspects for asserting their rights under the Fourth Amendment; they also effectively provide an end run around the court’s 2013 decision….
 

It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court finds yet one more "DUI Exception to the Constitution".
 

Share