State Supreme Court: Punishing Refusal to Submit to Blood Test Voids Consent

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 27th, 2015

Two days ago, I posted about the growing trend of states to criminalize refusals to submit to blood-alcohol testing in DUI cases.  See Is It a Crime to Refuse to Give Blood in a DUI Arrest?   This punishment for refusing to incriminate yourself seems yet another example of what I’ve repeatedly referred to as "The DUI Exception to the Constitution".

And, coincidentally, exactly two days ago the Hawaii Supreme Court handed down a decision reversing a DUI conviction — on the grounds that the defendant’s consent to a blood-alcohol test was invalid because it had been obtained through coercion.  The "consent", the Court said, was not freely and voluntarily given since it was given out of fear that refusing would result in criminal punishment.

State Supreme Court Ruling May Affect Hundreds of DUI Cases

Honolulu, HI.  Nov. 25 —  A Hawaii Supreme Court decision today could affect hundreds of outstanding drunken driving cases across the state — and potentially force authorities to reconsider whether those arrested for drunken driving in Hawaii in recent years gave proper consent before they took a blood-alcohol test.

The high court’s decision centers on an isolated drunken-driving case, the State of Hawaii vs. Yong Shik Won. Won’s 2011 driving-under-the-influence conviction relied on a breath test that showed he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.17. That’s above the state’s 0.08 legal limit to drive.

Won consented to the test after signing his initials on a consent form that said he faced up to $1,000 in fines and 30 days in jail if he refused to submit to it, according to court documents. The form mirrors a state law enacted that same year that made it a misdemeanor crime to refuse to submit to such breath tests, as well as blood or urine tests, to determine if someone was legally intoxicated.

The law is similar to statutes in other states across the country, officials say…

“If you don’t consent to this search, you’re going to go to jail for 30 days. And that’s what they told people as they did all this.” (Won’s attorney) said today, referring to blood, breath and urine tests.

A three-member majority of the state’s highest court ruled in Won’s favor, arguing that Won did not voluntarily consent to the breath test used in his DUI conviction…

As the Court wrote in its lengthy opinion:

Under our law, a person has a statutory and  constitutional right to refuse to consent to a bodily search unless an exception to the search warrant requirement is
present. In this case, the defendant was informed by the police of his right to refuse to consent to a search, but he was also told that if he exercised that right, his refusal to consent would be a crime for which he could be imprisoned for up to thirty days…


Is It a Crime to Refuse to Give Blood in a DUI Arrest?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 25th, 2015

Let’s say you’re arrested for drunk driving, handcuffed and thrown in the back of the police car. The arresting cop then tells you that you have to submit to a blood test: You will have a needle injected into your arm and a blood sample will be withdrawn to be later analyzed for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).  

You will be booked for driving under the influence of alcohol.  However, if the blood sample later shows a BAC of .08% or higher, you will be charged not only with DUI, but also with a second offense:  driving with a BAC of .08%.  

You are afraid of needles and refuse, insisting instead on being tested with a breathalyzer.  Result: The cop books you for DUI — and for refusing to submit to blood-alcohol testing.

Can you be prosecuted for refusing to give a blood sample?    

In many states today, refusing to be tested is, in fact, a separate crime — and you can be prosecuted for both DUI and for refusing.  The courts have held that there is no Fifth Amendment right to refuse to incriminate yourself by submitting to BAC testing.  In other states, it is not a crime, but can carry other sanctions — commonly, a longer driver’s license suspension.

But what if the cop does not give the suspect a choice — of a blood or breath test?  What if, as increasingly happens — and has hypothetically happened to you in this case — the cop demands a blood sample?  Does that change things?

Minnesota: DUI Blood Draw Refusal Cannot Be Criminalized

The Newspaper, Oct. 22 — Minnesota motorists cannot be held guilty of a crime if they refuse to allow a police officer to draw their blood on demand. A divided state Court of Appeals panel came to that conclusion last week after applying the reasoning found in the US Supreme Court’s McNeely decision, which struck down forced motorist blood draws.

Todd Eugene Trahan was pulled over after midnight on October 24, 2012, after a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy noticed his erratic driving. After pulling Trahan over, it was obvious he was intoxicated. Trahan had a long history of driving under the influence (DUI) convictions. He was taken to a jail cell where he declined to allow a blood draw…

A judge sentenced Trahan to five years in prison for first-degree refusal. Under Minnesota law, it is a crime to refuse to submit to a blood, breath or urine test. Initially, the Court of Appeals found the law quite clear and upheld Trahan’s conviction, but the Minnesota Supreme Court told the lower court to reconsider.

The appellate court found in its second look at the case that a police officer could not have taken Trahan’s blood without obtaining a warrant from a neutral magistrate under the Fourth Amendment, as police had no valid excuse not to seek a warrant…

The court majority found the blood test refusal statute failed the strict-scrutiny constitutionality test because there are ways to get drunk drivers off the road without criminalizing the blood draw refusal.

"Police may offer a breath test to a suspected drunk driver and then, if the test is refused, the state may charge the person with the crime of test refusal," Judge Halbrooks explained. "The state may also prosecute a driver for driving under the influence without measuring the alcohol concentration or amount of controlled substances in a person’s blood. And when time allows, police can secure a search warrant to test the person’s blood."

The court made a distinction between the intrusiveness of a blood test and a breath test in finding the breath test refusal could still be criminalized. 

Not All Drunk Drivers are Alcoholics

Posted by Jon Ibanez on November 23rd, 2015

For as much education (…and a rigorous one at that) as lawyers have to go through to practice law, it sometimes amazes me that some attorneys still lack some very basic and common sense. A recent interaction with a high ranking prosecutor reminded me of this and prompted me to write this blog

Not all drunk drivers are alcoholics.

The case that prompted said interaction with the prosecutor involved a drunk driver who caused a collision. The driver’s blood alcohol content was admittedly high at a 0.20 percent. After discussing the matter with the prosecutor, her reaction was "Well, his blood alcohol content was a 0.20 and he caused this crash, so he clearly has a drinking problem."

As lawyers, we are trained to think logically. In fact, the Law School Admission Test (commonly referred to as "LSAT") devotes one third of the exam to specifically test the logic of would-be law students. This portion of the exam was suitably called "Logic Games." This is exactly why it was such a shock to hear that conclusion come from an attorney with so much authority behind their position.

And this was such an obvious logical flaw; the "False Cause Logical Fallacy" to be specific. The name might not sound familiar, but how the fallacy works certainly will.

A causes B when there is no causal relationship exists or when there is merely a correlation between A and B.

The drunk driver in my case was not a heavy drinker nor was he a regular drinker. He drank occasionally when he was out to dinner or with friends. It can hardly be said that he had a drinking problem. He merely made the poor decision to drive after one of his infrequent drinking occasions.

In 2008, a study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research which suggested that almost half of who drove while intoxicated were only occasional drinkers.

Medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Nicole T. Flowers along with her colleagues analyzed data from a 2006 survey where more than 350,000 adults were questioned about behavioral risks such as drinking and drunk driving. They found that 84 percent of drunk drivers had been binge drinking. "Binge drinking" was defined as four or more drinks in one sitting for women and five or more drinks in one sitting for men.

The researchers, however, also identified "heavy drinkers" as women who consumed more than one drink a day and men who consumed more than two drinks a day. And after categorizing the two groups, they found that binge drinkers who were not heavy drinkers made up 49 percent of those who drove while under the influence.

While I’ve devoted my career to defending drunk drivers, I understand that drunk driving is a problem and I would never condone it. But I also understand that people are people who will always make mistakes.

So here’s my plea to anyone finding themselves agreeing with the prosecutor’s conclusion: Please don’t let your social distain for drunk driving affect your ability to think logically and make judgments about a person without knowing the individual circumstances of that person or their case.

Cop Too Drunk to Receive MADD Award

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 19th, 2015

And in today’s "Who will guard the guardians?" department, this recent news article from USA Today…..

Florida Cop Turns Up Drunk to Collect Mothers Against Drunk Driving Award

Tampa, FL.  A Florida police officer who was due to be honored at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving conference turned up drunk to collect his award, according to local media.

So wasted, according to an internal affairs investigation, that he was found wandering in a hotel hallway stripped to his underwear. He also was described as "staggeringly drunk" by a witness at the Friday night banquet where he was set to receive the MADD accolade.

Records obtained by two Tampa TV stations show that Michael Szeliga, a deputy from neighboring Pinellas County, packed a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey in his patrol car before driving across the state to the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Hotel in Fort Lauderdale with two other deputies.

They were there in July for two days of training to combat drunken driving. Szeliga was also supposed to receive a MADD decoration for making more than 100 DUI arrests…

Or would that be in the "Physician heal thyself" department?

Should You Take a Breath or a Blood Test?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on November 16th, 2015

One of the biggest areas of confusion when it comes to a California DUI is the chemical test. More specifically, one of the most asked questions regarding the chemical test is whether a person should submit to a breath or a blood test.

Before I get into whether a breath test or a blood test is better, let me start off by saying that, yes, California law requires that someone who has been arrested for a California DUI submit to a chemical test. Any test requested by an officer prior to arrest, including field sobriety tests and a pre-arrest breathalyzer (called a “PAS” test), is optional. And I would never suggest submitting to them. Why give the officers any more reason to arrest you when you don’t have to?

Once a person is lawfully arrested for a California DUI, however, they must submit to a chemical test under California’s “Implied Consent” law which can either be a breath or a blood test.

Ok, so now on to the question of whether a person should submit to a breath test or a blood test after they’ve been lawfully arrested. Unfortunately, like many questions dealing with the law, the answer is: it depends.

The blood test is far more accurate than the breath test and much less likely than a breathalyzer to produce a false reading. Also, when law enforcement draws blood from a DUI suspect, they are required by law to preserve a sample of the blood for the defense. This means that the defense attorney can request that a portion of the blood be sent to an independent analyst for re-testing. This is called a “blood split” and is used to contradict the results of the state blood test results or possibly to show contamination of the blood sample.

If a person knows that they are under the legal limit and a blood test is likely to show that they are under the legal limit, a blood test might be the better option because it is more accurate. On the other hand, for the same reason, the blood test may not be the best option for someone who will likely test over the legal limit.

The breath test is far less reliable than the blood test and can be inaccurate for a number of reasons. Without addressing all of the problems with breathalyzers here, I’ll just point you to Lawrence Taylor’s post:

In fact, it is not uncommon for a breathalyzer to provide a false positive result for someone who is actually under the legal limit.

While the general accuracy of breathalyzers cannot be legally challenged as a whole, a skilled California DUI defense attorney can challenge the reliability of the particular breathalyzer that was used in a DUI arrest.

If a person knows that they are likely to be above a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, the breathalyzer is likely the better option because it is easier to refute the results.

So to answer the question of whether a breath or a blood test is the better chemical test, it really does depend. It depends on whether the person believes they are actually over or under the legal limit. If you believe that you are under the legal limit, the blood test is the better option because the accuracy of the blood test will show that you are, in fact, under the legal limit. On the other hand, if you believe that you are over the legal limit, the breath test is the better option because it is easier to refute the results.