Court looks at whether drivers can refuse warrantless blood tests

This article looks at whether police can conduct blood or breath DUI tests without a search warrant.

Whether or not blood and breath tests without a warrant are constitutional is something that has been long debated in both the legal professions and among the general public. As Bloomberg reports, a recent U.S. Supreme Court case recently dealt with this very issue, specifically with whether or not refusing to submit to a blood withdrawal or breathalyzer test can result in criminal charges being laid against drivers. The case is likely to prove significant for DUI laws across the country and it is one that drivers everywhere should know about so that they are better aware of their rights when stopped by the police.

Is refusing a crime?

The recent Supreme Court case dealt with no-refusal laws that a number of states have passed in recent years. These laws make it a crime for people who are suspected of drunk driving of refusing either a blood withdrawal or breath test for alcohol. Making refusal to submit to such testing a crime is significant because previously such refusal was generally treated as an administrative matter. If a driver refused to submit to a blood or breath test that driver would likely lose his or her license, which is an administrative penalty that does not result in a criminal record.

States that had criminalized refusal to submit to such tests argued that these laws were necessary in order to clamp down on drunk driving. Furthermore, defenders of these laws argued that police could not be expected to get search warrants for breath or blood tests since doing so would, they claimed, take too long and would make it difficult to determine whether a driver was actually impaired when pulled over.

The court's ruling

As CBS News reports, the nation's top court rejected the notion that police could not get a search warrant for a blood withdrawal in a timely enough manner. The Supreme Court ruled that a search warrant was necessary when drawing blood from a person since a blood withdrawal is highly invasive and requires the state to store a citizen's blood sample.

Somewhat controversially, however, the top court did not take the same view of breathalyzer tests. Instead, the court ruled that because breath is something that people expel anyway that a breath test is therefore not an invasive test. As a result, the court decided that police do not need a search warrant when carrying out a breathalyzer test and that refusing such a test can lead to criminal charges.

Criminal law

Anybody who is facing DUI charges needs to talk to a criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible. Being convicted of a DUI offense can lead to a number of penalties, including the loss of one's license, incarceration, a criminal record, and being required to install an ignition interlock device. A criminal defense attorney can help those facing these serious charges understand what their rights are and how they can best protect their freedom.