The Supreme Court of the United States has now issued its decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, a case consolidated with Beylund v. Levi, and a Minnesota Supreme Court Case, Bernard v. Minnesota. (Available here)
At issue in the claims was the constitutionality of obtaining breath and blood test incidental to arrest for drunk driving without a warrant. Ultimately, the Court concluded that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrest, but does not allow warrantless blood tests absent on exception to the warrant requirement. The Court reasoned that breath tests do not implicate significant privacy concerns and involve almost negligible physical intrusion. A blood test, however, involves piercing the skin to extract a sample of a person that can be preserved and used to extract information beyond the blood alcohol concentration. Moreover, the blood testing can cause significantly more anxiety for the person tested.
The decision goes on to note that motorists cannot be criminally punished for refusing to submit to blood tests in DWI proceedings. Of note, the Court appeared to distinguish between criminal and civil penalties as well as evidentiary consequences for motorists who refuse to provide a blood sample. The recent decision leaves several questions open with respect to the constitutionality of convictions in addition to the ability to enforce civil penalties in cases involving DWI. Moreover, the case may have significant implications for defendants in a variety of previous cases. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can increase the chances of reducing penalties or obtaining acquittal.
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