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SUPREME COURT WILL REVIEW STATE LAWS MAKING IT A CRIME TO REFUSE BLOOD-ALCOHOL TESTS

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices

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12/15/2015
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Breathalyzer

 

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether states can make it a crime for motorists suspected of drunken driving to refuse breath, blood or urine tests. Thirteen states have such laws.

The court took up the question in three cases: one from Minnesota and two from North Dakota, which were consolidated for a single argument.

In 2013, in Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled that the police investigating a drunken-driving incident must generally obtain warrants before drawing blood without consent.

The state laws get around that ruling by making refusal to consent to testing a separate crime. State officials justify those laws in part on the ground that drivers have given their consent to be tested as a condition of being permitted to drive.

The defendants in the new cases say the laws violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
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Under the Minnesota law, people convicted of refusing to be tested can face a mandatory minimum sentence of three years — and up to seven years — even if they are never convicted of drunken driving.

The Minnesota case involves William R. Bernard, who refused to take a breath test after his arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected his challenge to the law, reasoning that the search was permissible because it was conducted in connection with an arrest.

“It is rational to conclude that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a breath test relates to the state’s ability to prosecute drunk drivers and keep Minnesota roads safe,” Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote for the majority.

In dissent, Justices Alan C. Page and David R. Stras said the majority “apparently wishes that we lived in a world without Missouri v. McNeely.”

“The court today fundamentally departs from longstanding Fourth Amendment principles and nullifies the warrant requirement in nearly every drunk-driving case,” they wrote.

The North Dakota law says that “refusal to take the test directed by the law enforcement officer is a crime punishable in the same manner as driving under the influence.”

The North Dakota Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Danny Birchfield, who was arrested after he drove his vehicle into a ditch. He refused to be tested and challenged the North Dakota law as unconstitutional.

“Driving is a privilege, not a constitutional right and is subject to reasonable control by the state,” Justice Lisa K. Fair McEvers wrote.

The defendants in all three cases are represented by lawyers affiliated with Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic. In the Minnesota case, Bernard v. Minnesota, No. 14-1470, they urged the Supreme Court to forbid states from “giving greater constitutional protection to an arrestee’s pockets or handbag than to the arrestee’s body.”

“The need for review is especially acute because the question presented in this case is one of exceptional practical and doctrinal importance,” they wrote, as the 13 states’ laws “affect many thousands of people every year.”

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether states can make it a crime for motorists suspected of drunken driving to refuse breath, blood or urine tests. Thirteen states have such laws.

The court took up the question in three cases: one from Minnesota and two from North Dakota, which were consolidated for a single argument.

In 2013, in Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled that the police investigating a drunken-driving incident must generally obtain warrants before drawing blood without consent.

The state laws get around that ruling by making refusal to consent to testing a separate crime. State officials justify those laws in part on the ground that drivers have given their consent to be tested as a condition of being permitted to drive.

The defendants in the new cases say the laws violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Continue reading the main story
Related Coverage

    Abigail Fisher, right, who says the University of Texas denied her admission because of her race, and her lawyer spoke outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
    Supreme Court Justices’ Comments Don’t Bode Well for Affirmative ActionDEC. 9, 2015
    Voters in Columbus, Ohio, last month. The Supreme Court has never definitively ruled on who must be counted in voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters?
    Potential Power Shift as Court Weighs ‘One Person One Vote’DEC. 8, 2015
    Justices Weigh Power of Indian Tribal Courts in Civil SuitsDEC. 7, 2015

Under the Minnesota law, people convicted of refusing to be tested can face a mandatory minimum sentence of three years — and up to seven years — even if they are never convicted of drunken driving.

The Minnesota case involves William R. Bernard, who refused to take a breath test after his arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected his challenge to the law, reasoning that the search was permissible because it was conducted in connection with an arrest.

“It is rational to conclude that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a breath test relates to the state’s ability to prosecute drunk drivers and keep Minnesota roads safe,” Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote for the majority.

In dissent, Justices Alan C. Page and David R. Stras said the majority “apparently wishes that we lived in a world without Missouri v. McNeely.”

“The court today fundamentally departs from longstanding Fourth Amendment principles and nullifies the warrant requirement in nearly every drunk-driving case,” they wrote.

The North Dakota law says that “refusal to take the test directed by the law enforcement officer is a crime punishable in the same manner as driving under the influence.”

The North Dakota Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Danny Birchfield, who was arrested after he drove his vehicle into a ditch. He refused to be tested and challenged the North Dakota law as unconstitutional.

“Driving is a privilege, not a constitutional right and is subject to reasonable control by the state,” Justice Lisa K. Fair McEvers wrote.

The defendants in all three cases are represented by lawyers affiliated with Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic. In the Minnesota case, Bernard v. Minnesota, No. 14-1470, they urged the Supreme Court to forbid states from “giving greater constitutional protection to an arrestee’s pockets or handbag than to the arrestee’s body.”

“The need for review is especially acute because the question presented in this case is one of exceptional practical and doctrinal importance,” they wrote, as the 13 states’ laws “affect many thousands of people every year.”

The new cases are Birchfield v. North Dakota, Beylund v. North Dakota and Bernard v. Minnesota.



Category: DUI/OVI/Traffic


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