Supreme Court allows breathalyzer after DUI without warrant
The Supreme Court on Thursday made an unprecedented ruling which some consider an infringement on the liberties that many of us take for granted by ruling in a split decision that while police officers must generally obtain a warrant to obtain a blood test after a DUI arrest if the driver refuses to consent to one, police may require a breathalyzer for suspected drunk drivers without a warrant.
Unfortunately for drivers, this new ruling makes it even more difficult for drivers to understand the complexity of drunken driving laws, and while requiring a warrant for a blood test does improve our personal privacy; some would argue that not requiring a warrant for a breathalyzer test may have eroded personal liberties all in the name of increased public safety.
Ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota
The Supreme Court decision was issued for the Birchfield v. North Dakota case which consolidated three separate cases where men were arrested for driving under the influence and faced prosecution after they all refused to take a blood or breath test following their DUI arrest.
The judges were split 5-3 on their decision with Justice Samuel Alito writing the opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
Justice Samuel Alito noted in his opinion that police are allowed breathalyzer tests without the issuance of a warrant because “breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests. We conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving," He added, "As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation."
He also noted that breath tests did not implicate “significant privacy concerns” because the test in no way pierced the skin or left any type of biological sample from the driver in the possession of the Federal Government.
Alito justified his opinion further arguing that this measure should be allowed because "drunken drivers take a grisly toll on the Nation's roads, claiming thousands of lives, injuring many more victims, and inflicting billions of dollars in property damage every [year].”
Three judges dissented with Justice Sonia Sotomayor arguing strongly for herself and for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that police should be required to get a warrant in all cases. She noted that the argument that law enforcement did not want to overwhelm judges was a weak one.
"This court has never said that mere convenience in gathering evidence justifies an exception to the warrant requirement," Sotomayor wrote. "I fear that if the court continues down this road, the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement will become nothing more than a suggestion."
Dissenters have strong opinions about forced breathalyzers
Everyone agrees that drunk driving is a scourge on our society; however, Americans are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. Protections have been afforded to U.S. citizens and those opposed to this recent ruling argue that police officers have the responsibility to demonstrate to a neutral judge that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed before a search is allowed.
Opponents also have pushed back against the argument that obtaining a search warrant may be too difficult or may take too much time. With the advancement in technology and the speed at which a judge can be contacted it’s easy to negate the argument that the body's metabolism of alcohol alone should be considered an exigent circumstance.
If you are arrested for DUI and you refuse a chemical test the state’s right to obtain a sample of your breath is now easier than ever.
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