U.S. Supreme Court Expected to Rule on Warrantless BAC Tests

BAC test, Hartford criminal defense lawyerIn late April, the nation’s high court heard oral arguments in a case whose impact could be felt around the country. At issue before the Supreme Court is whether or not criminal penalties for refusing blood-alcohol content (BAC) test without a warrant violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. As it currently stands, 13 states maintain laws that make the refusal of such tests a crime, separate from the offense of driving under the influence (DUI). Many other states, like Connecticut, provide administrative penalties for refusing such a test rather than criminal prosecution.

Driving as a Constitutional Right

While the United States Constitution was drafted before the advent of the automobile, many believe that the ability to drive should be considered a right, not merely a privilege. The distinction is very important, as a privilege can more easily be conditional, while a right must be protected.  The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that driving is a constitutional right, but has explicitly recognized the right to travel. If driving is a right, then a driver cannot be asked to waive his or her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable warrantless searches as a condition of driving.

Implied Consent

States that provide criminal or administrative penalties for refusing a warrantless breath or blood test generally operate under the principle of “implied consent.” This means that by driving, the driver has granted his or her implied consent to submit to chemical testing when asked by law enforcement. Plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case maintain that legally mandated consent is not really consent—not when the alternative is a criminal penalty.

Warrantless Search Exceptions

In most situations, the police can conduct a warrantless search incident to arrest in order to protect the officer on the scene or to preserve evidence. It could hardly be argued that a suspected drunk driver presents a danger to the officer, so the question is really about preserving evidence. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a warrant to conduct blood tests related to DUI, due to the invasive nature of such tests, though breathalyzers were not included. Many believe that the current case will draw from this previous ruling, especially in light of the technology available to obtain warrants faster than ever before. Whether or not the court decides to eliminate criminal prosecution for refusing a warrantless test remains to be seen, and a ruling may be handed down at any time.

Refusing a BAC Test in Connecticut

If you are pulled over in Connecticut and asked to submit to a BAC test, you cannot be criminally prosecuted for refusing. You will, however, be subject to an administrative suspension of your driving privileges for 45 days. Depending on the circumstances of your case, an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Connecticut may be able to help keep you on the road. Contact the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, for a confidential consultation today to learn more about your available options. Call [[phone1]] for an appointment.

 

Sources:

http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-04-20/even-drunken-drivers-have-constitutional-rights

http://www.npr.org/2016/04/20/475015344/supreme-court-hears-arguments-in-breathalyzer-case

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/04/20/supreme-court-drunk-driving-breath-test-warrant/83286598/

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/supreme_court_dispatches/2016/04/scotus_drunk_driving_case_looks_good_for_the_drunk_drivers.html

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