Constitutional protections are supposed to ensure that no defendant is forced to submit to a search without a warrant, except in exigent circumstances. Unfortunately, drunk driving defendants nationwide are effectively being forced to submit to warrantless searches. The U.S. Supreme Court is has agreed to hear cases which will determine if it is constitutional for states to pass laws which make it a crime to refuse to submit to a blood test without a warrant.
In 2013, a case reached the Supreme Court called Missouri v. McNeely. The case arose because police were forcing defendants suspected of drunk driving to undergo blood tests without the consent of those defendants and without a warrant. The police tried to justify this clear constitutional violation by claiming the body’s natural metabolizing of alcohol in the blood stream was an exigent circumstance that justified the search. The evidence was being destroyed by the body as time passed, so police said they had no time to get a warrant.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court said the body’s “destruction” of evidence of DUI was not an exigent circumstance which would justify a warrantless search. If police wanted to test someone’s blood to prove impairment, police would need to get a warrant just like they would before conducting any other search without consent.
This decision should have provided necessary protection for drivers- but it isn’t. This is because 13 states impose criminal penalties for drivers who refuse to undergo a blood test. The result of these criminal penalties is defendants are essentially being told that they have to consent to a warrantless search (which the court said was unconstitutional) or else they could be jailed.
The Hawaii Supreme Court recently addressed this issue, as a defendant who was convicted of DUI on the basis of a blood test had given his consent to take the test only after police told him he could be jailed for 30 days if he refused. The test showed his BAC was .17, and this evidence secured his conviction- which the Hawaii Supreme Court overturned.
The case in Hawaii demonstrated how defendants’ rights are being trampled on by criminal laws requiring blood tests. Fortunately, the state supreme court put an end to this practice. The state court’s decision, however, doesn’t protect other drivers in states which currently impose criminal penalties for blood test refusal and the decision won’t protect drivers if other states also decide to make blood test refusal a crime.
If the U.S. Supreme Court finds that criminalizing blood test refusal is unconstitutional, however, defendants nationwide will get the protection they need. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari to hear cases on this issue. The cases are Bernard v. Minnesota and Birchfield v. North Dakota,and the cases address state laws in both Minnesota and North Dakota that make it a criminal offense to refuse a blood test.
The Supreme Court will hopefully determine it is unconstitutional to force a defendant to either consent to a warrantless test or to go to jail. If McNeely is to actually provide any substantive protection from unreasonable searches, the Court will need to impose limits on state that routinely abridge the rights of suspected impaired drivers.
Defendants who are accused of impaired driving should seek legal assistance in fighting charges to ensure they make a solid argument to suppress any evidence which was collected in violation of their constitutional rights. LV Criminal Defense has provided legal representation to defendants in many DUI cases and can offer you the legal advocacy you need to identify the right defense strategies to use after you face charges for impaired driving.