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Supreme Court considers whether police may force warrantless blood alcohol tests

8 months 4 weeks 1 day ago April 21, 2016 Apr 21, 2016 Thursday, April 21 2016 April 21, 2016 8:45 AM in News
Source: WBRZ

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether law enforcement is required to get a warrant before forcing a driver to submit to breath or blood alcohol tests.

Currently, all 50 states revoke the driver’s license in the event they refuse such tests. 12 states and the federal government have laws in place that allow for jail terms when drivers refuse.

Louisiana law requires you to take a breath, blood, or urine test if you are arrested for a DWI. Louisiana’s “implied consent” law says that if you are lawfully arrested by an officer who has probable cause to believe that you have been driving or boating while intoxicated, then you consent to taking a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine for the purpose of determining your blood alcohol content.

All states agree that tests of this sort constitute the “search” of a person’s body, and the Constitution states all searches require a warrant. Now, the court must decide whether states can get around this requirement by putting laws into place that make it a crime to refuse to submit to blood or breathalyzer tests.

A lawyer for three defendants who refused tests in Minnesota and North Dakota has told Supreme Court justices that the issue with the statutes is that they turn asserting a constitutional right into a crime.

Justice Samuel Alito has said the defendants are “reneging on a bargain” that was agreed upon when the drivers received their licenses. In exchange for the bargain, Justice Alito says, drivers get to drive yet they must agree to submit to blood alcohol tests.

The attorney, Charles Rothfeld, is claiming his clients didn’t know they were consenting to such an agreement.

Justice Stephen Breyer has asserted that breath tests differ from blood alcohol tests in that there is no technical bodily intrusion by the straw placed into the mouth during breath alcohol tests. This sort of test can also be performed at the site where the driver is pulled over. Another justice asked why the court should not deem a breath test as necessary to measure evidence of quickly dissipating alcohol in the blood.

The matter at hand became much more complicated when lawyers presented their arguments to the court. Lawyer Thomas McCarthy, representing North Dakota, told the justices requiring a warrant would cause major issues for states due to the time required to get the warrant.

One justice returned fire by pointing out that now over 40 states have set up electronic systems for getting warrants. The lawyer defended by noting that some rural areas in the state he is representing could see wait times of up to half an hour to obtain a search warrant due to fewer resources.

The defense didn’t fly with the court who pushed for more quantifiable reasons certain states could not uphold the constitutional measure. In fact, a federal government employee present in the session even made a contradictory point when he said it is actually areas in large cities like New York that would have trouble meeting the warrant demand. Cities can be tied up with things like terrorism warrants which would supersede warrants for blood alcohol tests.

Rothfeld replied to this point that National Highway Transportation Safety Administration studies indicate these routine warrant procedures in both cities and rural areas have brought down test refusals while increasing convictions of intoxicated drivers.

Louisiana law requires you to take a breath, blood, or urine test if you are arrested for a DWI. Louisiana’s “implied consent” law says that if you are lawfully arrested by an officer who has probable cause to believe that you have been driving or boating while intoxicated, then you consent to taking a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine for the purpose of determining your blood alcohol content.

In Louisiana, you will lose your license for one year for your first refusal. For your second and any subsequent refusal, your license will be suspended for two years. If you have refused two or more times previously, however, or if you have been involved in an accident where there was serious injury or death, then the state can force you to take a test and you still face the suspension as well as fines from $300 to $1,000 and even time in jail.

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