Supreme Court Upholds DUI Breathalyzer Tests
June 27, 2016
A recent Supreme Court decision impacted alcohol testing for drivers suspected of driving under the influence. The decision covered three different appeals from drivers convicted of DUI and upheld the use of breathalyzer exams by police in the field but put restrictions on blood tests.
In all three appeals, the drivers claimed that both the breathalyzer and blood tests were conducted illegally because a search warrant hadn’t been obtained by the arresting officers prior to conducting the tests. The drivers claimed that, without a warrant, the breathalyzer and blood tests were an unconstitutional violation of their fourth amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In a five to three decision, the justices ruled that the breathalyzer exam was a reasonable search following a lawful arrest. The breath test is less intrusive and serves the interest of law enforcement in conducting the investigation of the case.
The Supreme Court justices found however, that the blood test is more intrusive and would require a warrant from a judge before police could require that the suspect submit a blood sample.
The Supreme Court decision upheld the conviction of the driver who claimed the breathalyzer test was unconstitutional but it overturned the conviction of a driver who challenged the blood test requirements. In the third case involving a blood sample, the case was sent back to the lower court for reconsideration in light of the ruling.
Several states including Florida and Texas have implied consent laws that allow police to use reasonable force to extract a blood sample in cases where alcohol use was suspected as the cause of a crash that caused a death or injury. Those states will probably require that judges be available around the clock to issue warrants before in time to gather the evidence before the suspect has sobered up.
The breathalyzer decision was hailed by advocates for stronger DUI laws. Mothers Against Drunk Driving applauded the decision by the court for “confirming that driving is a privilege, not a right.”
For more information, read: Supreme Court OKs warrant-less breathalyzer tests in drunk driving arrests