In a recent case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may impose criminal penalties on drivers who refuse warrantless blood testing under so-called “implied consent” laws. These laws, as readers may know, hold that licensed drivers are deemed to have consented in advance to chemical testing for purposes of determining intoxication.
Different states have different rules when it comes to the penalties imposed for refusal to submit to chemical testing. In some states, criminal penalties are imposed, whereas other states impose administrative sanctions. The recent Supreme Court decision centered on the question of whether the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which relates to searches and seizures, allows states to impose criminal penalties.
The court specifically ruled that, while states may not impose criminal penalties for refusal to submit to warrantless blood testing, states may legally impose criminal penalties for warrantless breath testing. The reason for the difference in treatment, according to the court, is the difference in the degree of intrusion. Taking a blood sample is a greater intrusion of a driver’s privacy compared to breath testing.
In any drunk-driving case, it is important for defendants to thoroughly explore any potential search and seizure issues with an experienced attorney. In cases where police failed to carry out the investigation properly and infringed upon the defendant’s rights, it may be possible to petition the court to remedy the problem by disallowing evidence which resulted from an illegal search or seizure. In our next post, we’ll explore this issue further, particularly as it relates drug charges.