There is continuing controversy over constitutional infringement regarding breath tests without a warrant. The United States Supreme Court finds that being submitted to a blood test for alcohol abuse is unconstitutional while breath-tests without probable cause remain legal.
Most officers will test your sobriety via a field test or dictate the conditions of your sobriety based on environmental and bodily signs such as blood shot eyes, open containers in the vehicle, or slurred speech. If a breath test requested by the officer and declined, the officer is seen to have adequate probable cause for taking you into custody and submitting you to the breath-test anyway to determine your blood alcohol content. Wherein lies the conflict?
A Breathalyzer is a machine that measures the amount of alcohol on your breath (this doesn’t give an adequate reading of how much is actually in your blood stream if poorly calibrated), while the blood test requires that you submit a blood sample (which is more invasive).
A split ruling among the justices stated that officers are required to have a warrant in order to perform a blood test on individuals for suspected drunk driving. The decision has been prompted by appeals that were organized in two separate US states by three separate individuals. With respect to our previous article, the argument was made with the claim that the evidence is obtained unlawfully under the protection of the fourth amendment.
The amendment in question states the following:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Division Amongst the Justices
Out of the nine Supreme Court Justices only five voted in favor of the warrant in order to blood test those suspected to be under the influence of alcohol. Although there was the argument to have the same ruling for breath-tests, the process is less invasive and too loose to claim it violates privacy.
According to Justice Samuel Alito, the impact of the breath test on privacy is slight which makes the need for a warrant in that circumstance unreasonable.
Given this situation, however, some justices believed that applying a loose interpretation to the grounds for an individual’s personal privacy would lead to the amendment being more of a suggestion than a right. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated:
“I fear that if the Court continues down this road, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement will become nothing more than a suggestion.”
Law Enforcement Perspective
Officers are angered by the decision that a warrant is now required in order to apprehend a drunk driver via blood test. The ruling is generating a significant amount of frustration within the law enforcement community. Since each law enforcement agency will be impacted differently in regards to the Supreme Court decision, it is difficult to say which states will face greatest and least impact with respect to implied consent laws.
The charges for driving under the influence (DUI) is the suspension of your license plus a hefty fine of $1,000 which increases with each offense. Community service and incarceration are also probable. If someone you know was apprehended for a DUI and submitted to a blood test without a warrant, the evidence was unlawfully obtained and they should seek representation from a DUI attorney. Ask them to contact the Spatz Law Firm.
Florida Supreme Court to Evaluate Constitutionality of Breath Test Arrests. (n.d.). Retrieved July 05, 2016, from http://www.spatzlawfirm.com/blog/2016/06/florida-supreme-court-to-evaluate-constitutionality-of-breath-test-arrests.shtml
Fourth Amendment – U.S. Constitution – FindLaw. (n.d.). Retrieved July 05, 2016, from http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment4.html
Police Chief Magazine – View Article. (n.d.). Retrieved July 05, 2016, from http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch