Supreme Court Backs Laws That Make DWI Breath Test Refusal a Crime

Controversial laws in states such as Texas that make it a crime for a drunk driving suspect to refuse a breath test have been backed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The highest court in the land has provided greater clarity on what constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure of a suspected drunk driver in a case that tested the “implied consent” laws of states like Texas.

The court ruled last month that police have to obtain a search warrant to perform a blood alcohol test on a motorist. However, states can make it a crime for a driver who is suspected of drunk driving to refuse a machine breath test, or a Breathalyzer, reported Christian Science Monitor.

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the majority 5-to-3 opinion in the case of Birchfield v North Dakota. He said breath tests do not pose “significant privacy concerns.” He made a differentiation between breath tests and more invasive blood tests, stating Breathalyzers do not pierce the skin or leave a biological sample with investigators.

It’s a crime to refuse a breath test in North Dakota where the case originated. Texas also has an “implied consent” law that says if you were lawfully arrested by an officer who has probable cause to believe you were driving or operating a boat while intoxicated, you consent to taking one or more chemical tests of your blood or breath for the purpose of determining your blood alcohol content.

You have a right to have your blood taken within two hours of your arrest by a medical professional that you choose.

The Supreme Court ruling means officers must obtain a search warrant to carry out a blood test. However, there is no such requirement for a breath test.

The case has a bearing on the Fourth Amendment which says Americans are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. Before investigators can invade the privacy of a suspect, they must show to a neutral judge that there is probable cause a crime has been committed. A judge can issue a search warrant if he or she is convinced of probable cause.

Drivers in all 50 U.S. states face losing their licenses for refusing drunken driving tests. The Supreme Court’s ruling affects laws in 11 states which make refusal to take the tests a crime.

Although drunk driving is serious crime that claims many innocent lives, this ruling raises a concern that the Fourth Amendment is being undermined. If you have been charged with a DWI, it’s important to hire an experienced Dallas criminal attorney as soon as possible. Read more about intoxicated driving in Texas here.

At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, we are experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to providing aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses charged with crimes.