In the days leading up to its summer break, the U.S. Supreme Court made a flurry of newsworthy decisions. One that garnered less media attention than some could impact a significant number of people around the country. It involves Breathalyzer tests and the Fourth Amendment.
Many people assume that they're required to take a roadside Breathalyzer test if they're stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. In most states, it's not illegal to refuse one as long as the police don't have a warrant, which they would have to seek from a judge, to compel it. In some states, including North Dakota, however, it's a crime to refuse to submit to a Breathalyzer test, whether the police have a warrant or not.
Court Differentiated Between Breathalyzer and Blood Tests
In its decision, the majority of justices upheld the right of states to require drivers suspected of DUI to submit to warrantless Breathalyzer tests. They ruled that it wasn't a violation of people's Fourth Amendment rights, which protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures However, they made a point of differentiating between a test where someone blows into a machine and blood tests. Those, the majority determined, require a warrant because they are more invasive.
The high court decision, which addressed three separate cases brought before it, focused on the case of a North Dakota man who actually did submit to a Breathalyzer after a crash, which showed his blood alcohol content to be triple the legal limit. However, he was charged with a misdemeanor for refusing to submit to a blood test.
Critics Argue That Decision Threatens Fourth Amendment Protections
Critics of the decision note that it chips away at our rights under the Fourth Amendment and will likely lead to more DUI convictions because prosecutors will have the evidence provided by the Breathalyzer. One defense attorney sums it up this way: "...it is the government's burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty of a crime, and ... to collect evidence and develop a case. It is not, however, a person's duty to give that evidence to the government."
In many states, although refusing a Breathalyzer test isn't a crime, those who do may have their license suspended. Often, defense attorneys advise people not to submit to a Breathalyzer without a warrant. However, it's essential to know your rights and the potential legal consequences in your state before you refuse to take one.
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