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Is the High Court Likely to Overturn State Drunk Driving Laws?

June 14, 2016 • DUI Defense

Close to a dozen states currently have laws on the books which make it a criminal act for people who are suspected of drunk driving to refuse to take a blood alcohol content (BAC) test.  Drivers face these criminal penalties when declining to submit to testing, even if police do not have a warrant.

In effect, these laws give motorists a choice: exercise your Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful search and seizure and face criminal penalties for doing so, or submit to a BAC test that could be a violation of your constitutional rights.

These criminal laws which essentially invalidate Fourth Amendment rights of people suspected of drunk driving have been challenged and the case has made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Now, Fox News reports that the justices on the Supreme Court appear to be expressing doubts about whether these laws can pass constitutional muster.

If the Supreme Court overturns the laws, this will provide important protection to drunk driving defendants by helping to ensure they will not be coerced by threat of criminal prosecution into submitting to a warrantless test of their blood alcohol content. 

Not only will defendants in the states with current laws benefit from this new protection, but defendants nationwide will be assured of the fact that police will need a search warrant if they're going to force a BAC test.

Defendants in drunk driving cases need to be aware of their constitutional rights in order to ensure that they are protected from unlawful searches. Experienced Tallahassee drunk driving defense lawyers can provide assistance to defendants in determining if their rights were violated. If police searched you improperly with no warrant, you can have the evidence suppressed so it cannot be used to secure a conviction.

U.S. Supreme Court Appears to Express Doubts About DUI Laws

There were three cases that made their way to the Supreme Court, which specifically challenged laws in Minnesota and North Dakota. The laws that are being challenged make it a crime to refuse blood, breath or urine tests even if police don't have a search warrant.  The laws were upheld in both North Dakota's state supreme court and in Minnesota's highest court.

Lawyers representing the states were questioned by the justices during oral arguments before the Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Breyer pointed to statistics that show it takes just five minutes to get a warrant in Wyoming over the phone and it takes just 15 minutes to get a warrant over the phone in Montana. 

Justice Anthony Kennedy also indicated that the states were requesting an “extraordinary exception” because they were essentially criminalizing people's exercise of their Fourth Amendment rights.  Other justices reportedly appeared to be looking for a middle ground or compromise solution.

While the questioning and statements during oral arguments do not necessarily guarantee a result on the case, at least in the questioning, the court appears to be expressing doubt over the constitutionality of the laws.

Hopefully, the court will rule to ensure drunk driving defendants get the protections they deserve. A skilled drunk driving attorney can provide help to defendants in exercising their rights and ensuring they do take full advantage of the protections under the constitution.