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High court to take on issue left unanswered by 2013 drunk driving appeal

Although much of the law surrounding DWI enforcement is settled, there are certain issues that come up from time to time in the courts. Typically, the average person doesn’t hear too much about these issues until the U.S. Supreme Court comes down with a decision on some disputed issue.

One of the more recent decisions the Supreme Court decided with respect to DWI enforcement came in 2013 in the case Missouri v. McNeely, which held that police offers are required to obtain a search warrant before taking a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver, provided officers can reasonably do so. The decision was a big one, but it left some questions unanswered. Last Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to take on one of those questions. 

The specific issue before the court, raised by three separate cases, is whether it is legal for states to impose criminal penalties on motorists who refuse to submit to BAC (blood alcohol content) testing. Those suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol do have the ability to refuse to submit to chemical testing under state implied consent laws, though not without consequences. Some states do permit so-called “no refusal” policies, which allow officers to take blood by force after obtaining a warrant, but the question before the Supreme Court only pertains to implied consent laws which criminalize the refusal to submit to testing.

Each of the cases involves a suspected drunk driver who refused to submit to alcohol testing, with subsequent imposition of criminal penalties. The high courts of both states from which the cases originate—Minnesota and North Dakota—have upheld the constitutionality of the criminal penalties, but we’ll have to wait and see how the court comes down on the issue. We’ll keep our readers updated. 

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