Supreme Court rules states may not criminalize blood test refusal

Search and seizure issues are important to explore when building a defense in drunk driving and drug cases. Despite the public safety risks posed by drunken driving and drug trafficking/use, criminal suspects still have constitutional rights that need to be protected.

While law enforcement generally does its job well, there are cases where officers push the limits of established procedures or cross over into illegal investigative tactics. Not only that, the very laws officers are tasked with enforcing do not always accord with constitutional protections.

Last week, to take a recent example, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws which impose criminal penalties for refusal to submit to blood testing are illegal. Criminal penalties for those who refuse to submit to breath and blood testing have become part of implied consent laws in 12 different states as part of an effort to battle drunk driving. At issue in this case were implied consent laws in North Dakota and Minnesota, which imposed criminal penalties for refusal of breath and blood testing.

The court ended up ruling that, due to the lack of intrusiveness, it is not unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment for states to impose criminal penalties for failure to submit to breath testing. The court did rule, though, that it is unconstitutional to impose criminal penalties for failure to submit to blood testing. While the ruling will force the above-mentioned states to abandon the imposition of criminal penalties for blood test refusal, it is also likely to lead more states to impose criminal penalties for breath test refusal.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this case, its relation to a previous Supreme Court decision regarding warrants and blood testing, and the importance of working with an experienced legal advocate when facing criminal charges.

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