In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota which affects every driver who is stopped by the police on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This ruling will cause states to reevaluate how they process suspected intoxicated drivers. However, Birchfield also held that refusal to submit to a breathalyzer cannot be criminalized. While a driver who refuses a breath test to determine blood alcohol concentration will suffer serious civil consequences, he cannot be a convicted criminal.
The Court held that breath tests to determine blood alcohol concentrations are lawful. Drivers do not have any constitutional right to refuse a breath test when police request one; instead, the driver should submit to the breathalyzer. Refusal to submit to a breath test will automatically lead to a loss of driving privileges for a period of time, a fine, and possible other civil penalties.
The Court also addressed the use of blood drawn to determine a driver’s blood alcohol concentration in Birchfield. Because the 4th Amendment to the Constitution limits unmeasurable searches and seizures, the Court held that blood draws are unconstitutional invasions of the driver’s person by the government.
In order for a law enforcement officer to obtain a blood sample of a driver who is suspected of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, one of three things must occur:
1) the officer must obtain the uncoerced consent of the driver;
2) the officer must obtain a warrant from a detached and neutral magistrate; or
3) there must be exigent circumstances which impede the officer’s ability either to seek the driver’s consent or to obtain a search warrant.
Notably, the Court held that the natural dissipation of alcohol over time is not a fact, which alone means that there are exceptional circumstances. Rather, each case is to be evaluated on its own facts.
The lesson to be learned from the Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield, essentially, is that a driver of a motor vehicle who is suspected of operating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs should always submit to a breath test to determine the driver’s blood alcohol concentration. However, there are numerous factors beyond the scope of this blog to consider when deciding whether to submit to a blood test. Stay tuned for further blogging on this issue.
In the meantime, if you are arrested or charged on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is imperative that you contact an attorney with extensive experience defending drivers and protecting their rights. Contact our skilled criminal defense attorneys today.