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States Cannot Criminalize a Defendants’ Refusal of Blood Test in DUI Arrests

Date: September 14, 2016

In a recent decision, the United States Supreme Court held that states cannot criminalize the refusal to take a blood test without a warrant, but also ruled that it was acceptable for states to punish the refusal to take a breath test. The Court went on to say that states can force suspected drunken drivers to take breath tests without first obtaining a warrant but cannot require them to take a more invasive blood test.

Lawyers for three defendants convicted of refusing to take tests in North Dakota and Minnesota had argued that the laws in those states violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures, because police did not have to obtain warrants first.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Alito said, “Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, we conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search, incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving,”

The states which were parties to the suit garnered support from advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The Foundation for Alcohol Responsibility, which argued that public safety is a compelling reason that justified the laws. But civil liberties groups contend that states cannot criminalize the assertion of a constitutional right.

This recent ruling affirms the 2013 decision in Missouri v. McNeely wherein the Supreme Court limited the ability of police to take involuntary blood samples from suspected drunken drivers without a search warrant.

If you or someone you know has been penalized for refusing a breathalyzer or blood test following a DUI arrest, call the law offices of Bernstein & Bernstein, LLC, to see if we can help.