Spread of no-refusal DUI stops raises constitutional concerns

Law enforcement agencies throughout Illinois are increasingly relying on the threat of blood draws if drivers refuse to submit to a breath test. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the spread of these so-called no-refusal DUI stops is raising both constitutional and practical concerns. While defenders of the practice say it is necessary to keep drunk drivers off the road, critics say it risks violating drivers' constitutional rights and overburdening health care workers with law enforcement duties. The spread of no-refusal stops has been partly aided by technology that makes it much easier and faster for police to obtain search warrants.

How no-refusal stops work

Drivers who are stopped by police and asked to give a breath test have the right to refuse such a breath test without facing criminal charges for doing so. Typically, a person who refuses to give a breath test will instead be subject to civil penalties, such as a license suspension, but will not have to face the prospect of DUI charges being added to their criminal records.

With no-refusal stops, however, if a driver refuses to give a breath test then police immediately seek a warrant to conduct a blood draw on the individual. The spread of e-warrants, which allow police to obtain warrants electronically, has allowed for blood-draw warrants to be obtained much faster than in the past. The results of a blood test could then be used as evidence to lay criminal DUI charges against the driver.

Constitutional and practical concerns

No-refusal DUI laws have long been controversial. As the Illinois News Network reports, earlier this year, for example, the 1st District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that a state law allowing police to take warrantless blood and urine samples from suspected drunk drivers was unconstitutional.

However, even with a warrant the blood draws are still controversial. It is not clear, for example, if refusing a breath test alone provides reasonable cause to believe that a driver may be intoxicated. Typically, police need to observe drivers engaging in other behaviors, such as slurring their speech, weaving in and out of traffic, and failing field sobriety tests before they can request a warrant for a blood draw.

Furthermore, there are concerns that getting blood draws from every driver who refuses a blood test will quickly overwhelm health care staff at emergency rooms. There is also concern about whether emergency room staff could face arrest if they refuse to conduct a blood draw on a suspect who has not given his or her consent for the blood draw. That situation happened recently in Utah when a nurse was filmed being handcuffed by police for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious driver. That officer was later fired and the nurse awarded $500,000 to settle her dispute with the police.

Criminal defense help

Anybody who may be facing criminal charges should contact a criminal defense attorney for help right away. The accused enjoy constitutional protections, but often it takes the help of an experienced attorney to ensure those protections are upheld. By talking to an attorney as soon as possible, defendants will have somebody on their side advocating for their rights and helping to hold the police accountable.