As you may already know, summer is the most important time for the Supreme Court as this is the time when the Court is clearing its docket of cases of the preceding term. The current season was more eventful than the previous ones. First of all, we are talking about the unexpected passing of Antonin Scalia back in February, which resulted in four on four separated opinions. Despite all that, the court was able to come up with a number of decisions that will impact millions of Americans in a number of ways.
The Court has made a number of significant decisions that concern the criminal law. Namely, on the basis of several cases grouped under the name Birchfield v. North Dakota, the Court has managed to establish the overall limitations of the authority of the law enforcement representatives in determining if the driver is operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol or not.
In a five against three opinion that was authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court established that refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test in order to determine whether the driver is sober or not is in fact a crime. In case of a lawful arrest a person is required to submit him or herself to this test and should they refuse – this is going to be considered a crime. The Court considered that breathalyzer tests are far less intrusive than the blood tests. In the end, the decision had an impact on the conviction of William Bernard, Jr. – he was prosecuted for refusing to submit himself to the breathalyzer test in Minnesota.
In addition, in yet another case, the case of Danny Birchfield, who was prosecuted in North Dakota for refusing to submit himself to the blood test, the Court ruled out that blood tests are far more intrusive and, even though these are providing actual physical evidence to the law enforcement officers, they must not be obligatory, at least not unless there is another alternative. Hence, the warrant is required in order for the police officers to be able to administer the blood tests.
License Suspension for Refusing a Breathalyzer Test
Before the Supreme Court rules out these decision, 11 states, including North Dakota as well as Minnesota, went beyond the suspension driver’s licenses for people, who are refusing to submit themselves to the breathalyzer tests. Now that the decision was ruled out, it is apparent that more and more states are going to follow and one can expect rising number of breath tests and a significantly lessened number of blood tests indeed.
As you may already know, the California Vehicle Code is stating that any individual “lawfully arrested for driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage… has the choice of whether the test shall be of his or her blood or breath and the officer shall advise the person that he or she has that choice.” Yet, now the Court has made a decision, which implies that no warrant is required for the administration of breath test and yet a warrant is needed for the administration of a blood test.
The above-mentioned options, the choices that are available for the drivers, who are suspected to be driving under the influence of alcohol, are now becoming obsolete. The warrant is no longer required for breath tests and yet the police needs one in order to administer a blood test. It is still unclear how it will function and how it will affect the above-mentioned paragraph from the Vehicle Code.
Moreover, it is completely unclear how this decision is going to affect the drivers who are operating their vehicles under the influence of drugs. That is right – people under the influence of illegal substances will need to give a blood sample in order to determine what they were on while driving. The breath test is not going to do any good in this case.
The Decision of The Supreme Court
Needless to say, the decisions of the Supreme Court members were also divided. While some of them were saying that neither form of testing should require a warrant, others claimed that the warrant is absolutely necessary for both blood and breath tests.
One way or the other, this decision I going to have a significant impact on the lives of the average Americans. Refusing to submit yourself to a breath test is no longer an option, since it could easily lead to criminal charges and it is the last thing anyone would ever want.
According to a relatively recent study, the number of people refusing to submit themselves to the breath tests equals approximatively 22%. Sure enough, with the approval of the above-mentioned decision, this number is going to decrease.
The decision is without a doubt a controversial one and it is somewhat difficult to say how it is going to work itself out in the future. After all, with the recent legalization of cannabis, the authorities will need to rethink the part about the blood tests. Either all the drivers will be divided into groups with different rights or a universal law will be established in order to help determine which drivers should and which should not be able to refuse the tests indeed.
Still, no matter what, in case you or your loved ones were charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the above-mentioned Supreme Court decision does not necessarily imply that you need to forget about the most essential step. That is right – we are talking about getting in touch with a qualified as well as genuinely experienced legal representative at the earliest opportunity. Regardless of what the circumstances may be around the case, whether or not you were submitted to the test and so on, only a good attorney is going to have what it takes to help you get out from this nasty legal situations with minimal legal damages indeed.
Pavel Kleyner, ESQ
Kleyner Law Offices