Court Rules Illegal Coerced Breath Tests are Okay

Friday, October 12th, 2018

What good is the Constitution if we don’t use it?

I find myself asking this more often than I’d like to admit. But unfortunately, courts throughout the country continue to issue decisions that erode the protections guaranteed to all of us by the Constitution. Such was the case earlier this month when the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that, even though officers illegally coerced a DUI suspect into giving consent to be breathalyzed, the results would stand.

In August of 2015, Arizona officers stopped Angel Soza on suspicion of driving under the influence. The officers told Soza that Arizona law “required” him to submit to and successfully complete tests of breath, blood or other bodily substance to determine alcohol concentration or drug content.

Like California, under Arizona law, drivers are impliedly deemed to have given their consent to a chemical test. However, if a driver refuses to provide breath or blood, officers may obtain a warrant to determine the driver’s blood alcohol content. Without a warrant, the driver must voluntarily agree to the testing. In fact, Arizona Revised Statutes section 28-1321, which is Arizona’s implied consent law, states that “[i]f a person under arrest refuses to submit to the test…[t]he test shall not be given.” The judges in Soza’s case admitted as much.

“The mere fact that the defendant does not resist the test is insufficient under the statute; consent must be express, said Judge Sean Earl Brearcliffe, who wrote for the majority.

Based on the officer’s admonition that he was “required” to submit to a test, Soza consented.

This was admittedly a violation of Arizona’s implied consent statute. In fact, Judge Brearcliffe said, “Here, the officer who arrested Soza read him a coercive admonition telling him he was ‘require[d]’ to submit to testing” and “[B]ecause there was no consent and no warrant, the breath test violated [the implied consent law].”

But, apparently, coercion doesn’t matter.

Notwithstanding its own determination that Soza’s consent was coercively obtained by police, the court went on to justify why the results could still be used against Soza.

“As a general rule, because the legislature is charged with providing remedies for the violations of the laws it enacts, unless a law states that exclusion of evidence is a remedy for its violation, the exclusionary rule is not imposed by the courts,” Judge Brearcliffe wrote. “Because the legislature nowhere in Section 28-1321 prescribed suppression of evidence as the remedy for its violation, were we to do so of our own accord, we would be engrafting on the law a remedy neither provided for by the legislature nor required by the Constitution.”

The exclusionary rule is a canon or American criminal justice where evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution cannot be used against a criminal defendant. In other words, for example, when a confession is illegally coerced by police, the confession cannot be used at trial against the defendant.

Therefore, the court ruled that even though the officers illegally coerced Soza’s consent, the results can stand because the implied consent law specifically does not refer to the exclusionary eule as a remedy.

Chief Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom, who dissented, believed that Soza’s breath results should have been thrown out, and I agree.

“In short, the Arizona Supreme Court has twice sanctioned violations of the implied-consent law by applying the exclusionary rule,” Judge Eckerstrom said. “As a subordinate court, I believe we are compelled to follow those cases and apply the rule to the similar violation here.”

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Lung Condition Causes Woman to Fail Breathalyzer

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

According to the American Lung Association, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, commonly referred to as COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. And according to the World Health Organization, COPD affects 65 million people worldwide. COPD, however, affected one Canadian woman in an unexpected way; it caused her to fail a breathalyzer.

Connie McLean, a 64-year-old woman from New Brunswick, Canada, who suffers from COPD, said that the condition can make everyday living difficult.

“When I’m carrying in wood, I can only carry in a couple sticks at a time and I usually have to stop and get some air before I go and get some more,” she said last week. “And shoveling is even worse.”

Early last month, McLean was pulled over by local law enforcement. The officer asked her if she had been drinking. McLean responded that she had a beer that afternoon. At that point, the officer produced a breathalyzer to try and determine her blood alcohol content.

As a result of the COPD, McLean could not produce a strong enough of a breath sample to provide a breathalyzer reading.

“I tried several times, but due to COPD and mucous in my airway I wasn’t successful,” she said. “And he just almost hollered, ‘You’re not trying, you’re under arrest and you’re going to jail.’”

McLean was charged with refusing to comply with the breathalyzer test which resulted in her vehicle being impounded for 30 days and her driver’s license being suspended for 90 days.

“It makes perfect sense to us that if you have severe COPD that it would be impossible to exhale for any length of time,” said Henry Roberts of COPD Canada. “I would hope the police would show some compassion to people who have difficulty breathing.”

McLean has a court date next month and intends on fighting the charge.

McLean’s predicament is not an unusual one, even here in the United States. Often, people are unable to provide a sufficient breath test for a number of health-related reasons. Breathalyzers require deep lung air, known as alveolar air, to be able to produce a blood alcohol content reading. If a person does not advise an officer of the health issue that might prevent them from providing alveolar air, the officer may believe that the person is deliberately trying to provide a sufficient breath sample.

California courts have found that an inference can be made that a person is deliberately attempting to avoid providing a sufficient breath sample if the facts permit. If such an inference is made, the court treats it as a refusal.

Fortunately, here in California, a driver is not required to give a breath sample for a roadside breathalyzer, commonly referred to as a “preliminary alcohol screening” test or “PAS” test. Refusing it will not result in additional penalties with either the court or the DMV. In fact, many DUI attorneys like myself recommend politely refusing the PAS test.

Of more importance, however, is the mandatory “chemical test” under California’s “implied consent law.” Under the implied consent law, a driver must submit to a chemical test once they are lawfully arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The chemical test can be either a breath or a blood test. Only for a refusal of the chemical test, not the PAS test, may a driver be punished.

Here in the California, a refusal of a chemical test can result in jail time, a longer DUI program, and/or a longer license suspension.

Let’s hope that reason prevails in the Canadian courts for McLean’s sake.

 

Thanks to my student, David Hong, for sending me this story!

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Breath or Blood Test After a California DUI Stop?

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Let’s imagine a common DUI scenario.

A person is stopped on suspicion of a California DUI. The person stopped has read my many posts telling readers that the field sobriety tests are optional and should not be submitted to. So they politely decline the field sobriety tests. Then the officer requests an on-scene breathalyzer known as the “preliminary alcohol screening” test or PAS test. In addition to my posts reminding readers that this too is option, the officer also informs the driver that the PAS test is optional. So this too is politely declined by the driver. Lastly, the officer advises the driver that they are under arrest on suspicion of a California DUI and that, by law, they must submit to a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test.

Which test should the driver choose? Breath or blood?

The DUI blood test is much more accurate than the DUI breath test. The blood test is far less likely than a DUI breath test to produce a false reading. Another benefit of a DUI blood test is that the law requires that a sample of the blood is saved for future testing by the DUI suspect’s defense attorney. The defense attorney can have the sample tested by its own blood analyst to contradict the results of the prosecutor’s analyst. This is called a “blood split” and it is commonly used in DUI defense.

The blood test, however, is not infallible. See my previous post:

The Dirty Skin Defense

Since the blood test is more accurate, if a person knows that they have not had much to drink and they are fairly certain that they are under the legal limit of 0.08 percent, then a blood test might be the better option. On the other hand, the blood test might not be the best for someone who is clearly over the legal limit because it will be more difficult to dispute the test results.

 Unlike the blood test, the breath test is rather unreliable. Breath tests can provide false readings for several reasons. See Lawrence Taylor’s post:

Are Breathalyzers Accurate?

Although California DUI attorneys cannot dispute the reliability of breathalyzers as a whole during a DUI trial, they can provide evidence that the particular breathalyzer used in an individual case was inaccurate.

Unlike the blood test, the breath test may be a better option for someone who knows they are likely over the legal limit because it will be easier for a California DUI attorney to refute the results. However, many people who are actually under the legal limit may still test over the legal limit because of the same inaccuracies.

Simply put, if you are fairly confident that your blood alcohol content will below the legal limit of 0.08 percent, you’re probably better off opting for the blood test because it will accurately show that you were, in fact, under the legal limit. However, if you think there is a chance that you could be above the legal limit, you might be better off opting for a breath test so that your attorney can challenge the results if you test above the legal limit.

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Do I have to Do a Breathalyzer During a California DUI Stop?

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Of all the questions I get about what to do and what not to do during a California DUI stop, the question about whether a person has to give a breath sample after a DUI stop is among the most common of the questions.

Strangely enough, the answer is both “yes” and “no” depending on which breath sample we’re talking about.

When law enforcement pulls someone over, chances are they already think the person is driving under the influence. However, in order to arrest them for a California DUI, law enforcement needs probable cause. This means that the officers must have facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person is driving drunk. In other words, the officers cannot just arrest someone on the hunch that the person is driving while under the influence. They need facts to suggest that the person is actually driving drunk.

The officers get the probable cause, or facts, through their own observations and when the driver performs and fails the field sobriety tests. In addition to the field sobriety tests that people typically think of, there is the preliminary screening alcohol (PAS) test. This is a roadside breathalyzer that is also considered a field sobriety test. And like the other field sobriety tests, the PAS test is optional. If the PAS test shows that a person has alcohol in their system, then the officers have the facts that would suggest that the person is driving under the influence.  

According to California Vehicle Code section 23612(h), the PAS test “indicates the presence or concentration of alcohol based on a breath sample in order to establish reasonable cause to believe the person was driving [under the influence]…[it] is a field sobriety test and may be used by an officer as a further investigative tool.”

The officer who makes the stop, by law, must advise the person that the PAS test is optional. California Vehicle Code section 23612(i) states that “If the officer decides to use a [PAS], the officer shall advise the person that he or she is requesting that person to take a [PAS] test to assist the officer in determining if that person is under the influence. The person’s obligation to submit to a [chemical test under California’s Implied Consent Law] is not satisfied by the person submitting to a [PAS] test. The officer shall advise the person of that fact and of the person’s right to refuse to take the [PAS] test.”

If the PAS test detects alcohol in the person’s system, they’ll likely be arrested for a DUI. Once the person is arrested, they must take a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test according to California’s Implied Consent Law.

California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A) sets forth the Implied Consent requirement. “A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of [California’s DUI laws].”

In other words, if you’re licensed to drive in California, you have impliedly consented to give either a breath or a blood sample when you are lawfully arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.

The key word here is “lawfully” arrested. If the officer did not observe any poor driving and the person does not perform any field sobriety tests including the PAS test, the officer may not have the probable cause to arrest the person. And if the officer does not have probable cause that the person is driving under the influence, yet they arrest the person anyways, the arrest is no longer lawful.  

When an arrest is unlawful, all evidence obtained after that arrest, including the results of the chemical test are inadmissible.

As you can see, it can be rather complicated. So simply put, you do not have to take the pre-arrest breathalyzer called the PAS test, but you do have to take a post-arrest chemical test which could include a breathalyzer.

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Supreme Court Says Warrantless Blood Test Illegal, but not Warrantless Breath Tests

Monday, June 27th, 2016

In December of last year, both Lawrence Taylor and I wrote about the United States Supreme Court’s announcement that it would review the criminalization of chemical test refusals following a DUI stop. On June 23rd, that decision was announced.

In a split decision, the Court held that states can punish a person for refusing a chemical breath tests following a DUI stop absent a warrant. States, on the other hand, cannot punish a person for refusing a chemical blood test absent a warrant.

In late 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a decision that decriminalized chemical test refusals in DUI cases. Prior to the decision, it was a petty misdemeanor to refuse a chemical test after a DUI arrest punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The Hawaii Supreme Court reasoned that criminalizing a chemical test refusal violated the 4th Amendment because we have the right against warrantless searches by law enforcement and the government cannot punish us for essentially invoking our 4th Amendment right. Furthermore, any consent to search (which is what a chemical test is; a search for alcohol in your breath or blood) cannot be voluntary if our only options are giving up a constitutional right or be punished.

Similar cases to that of Hawaii’s coming from North Dakota and Minnesota prompted the United States Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The decision affects thirteen states which make it a crime or increases penalties for to refusing to take a chemical test. Amongst those states is California where a prosecutor can allege that a person refused the chemical test in addition to the DUI charge in the criminal complaint. If the refusal is found to be true, a person can face additional penalties through the court case and a longer suspension of driving privileges through the DMV.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that breath tests do not implicate “significant privacy concerns.” Alito went on to say that breath tests are different than blood tests which require the piercing of skin and leaves a biological sample in the government’s possession. Breath tests, on the other hand, only require a person to blow into machine.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg said they would have gone further and required search warrants for both breath and blood alcohol tests. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying he would have found both tests constitutional.

So what does this mean for California?

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see exactly how this plays out. However, based on the Court’s decision, California courts and the California DMV can still punish people for refusing a chemical test after a DUI arrest, but only if the chemical test is a breath test. If the only chemical test that is available is a blood test after a DUI arrest, officers must obtain a warrant before forcing a person to submit to the blood test and a person cannot be punished for refusing that blood test absent that warrant.

This decision, unfortunately, is yet one more example of the erosion of our constitutional rights. The 4th Amendment and the warrant requirement was written to ensure that searches are not arbitrary capricious. Warrants ensure that searches are reasonable so as to protect the privacy of citizens. There mere arrest of a person does not make a search, be it a breath test or otherwise, per se reasonable.

Chisel, chip, and off falls our 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

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