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US Supreme Court: Police Need a Warrant for DUI Blood Tests

by simonhopes (writer), , September 13, 2016

Credit: DUI defense attorney
US Supreme Court

On June 23, 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police will need a warrant to perform blood tests during a drunk-driving apprehension.

The blood tests will check for a driver’s alcohol level to determine if it is within or over the specified BAC limit level.

The Supreme Court’s decision is anchored on the Fourth Amendment, which protects the people’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures. A blood test is intrusive of a person’s privacy; it also gives law enforcement a sample specimen from which other information about the person may be derived. And with the option of a breath test which is less privacy-violating, the rationale for a warrantless blood alcohol test diminishes.

A breath test poses no such intrusion. It is comparable to blowing up a balloon, does not show any other information aside from the alcohol level, no specimen can be stored, and it is not humiliating for a driver to blow into a breathalyzer. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled by 6-to-2 votes that the breath test can be done without need for a warrant.

The ruling was quite fragmented. Two justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made a partial dissent. They opined that both breath and blood tests required a warrant while another justice, Clarence Thomas, said that both tests should not need one for police to perform them. But in a 7-to-1 vote, it was ruled that the law on warrantless blood tests is a violation of the ban on unreasonable search per the country’s Fourth Amendment.

Three separate appeals brought on the Supreme Court decision. Two cases were from North Dakota, which has a state “implied consent” law criminalizing a person’s refusal to undergo a blood test after a drunk-driving arrest. The third case was from Minnesota, which has a similar implied consent law.

One case in North Dakota involved Danny Birchfield who drove his car into a ditch. He tested positive on the breathalyzer but refused a blood test, citing the fourth amendment. The case went all the way up to the US Supreme Court that ruled on the unconstitutionality of a blood test without a warrant. Birchfield’s conviction in the lower courts was overturned. The other man in the North Dakota case, Steve Beylund, was taken to a hospital where he had a blood test done, under threat of prosecution via the implied consent law. He registered a high blood alcohol level and had his license suspended for two years. He appealed and in view of the Supreme Court’s decision, his case will be sent back to the lower court.

In the Minnesota case, William Bernard Jr. refused a breath test and was criminally charged. Upon review by the district court, his conviction was dismissed after the court ruled that a breath test without a warrant was a violation of Bernard’s privacy rights. However, with the Supreme Court’s ruling that breath tests may be done without a warrant, Bernard’s conviction will be confirmed.

This ruling makes for very interesting cases and their outcomes, such as those of the three that the Supreme Court based their decisions on. Pending suits across all states will be seen in a new light and the courts may be clogged with those seeking a reversal of their convictions. Only a competent DUI defense attorney can analyze and sift through all the facts, evidence and circumstances surrounding a particular case and decide what are needed to defend a driver who has been charged with DUI. And, even for non-lawyers, it’s always a good thing to stay abreast with developments in the law, just in case you get involved in a legal matter such as drunk driving.



About the Writer

simonhopes is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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