The Stidham Law Firm
Free Initial Consultations: 470-338-5911
Get Criminal Defense Help Today.

Over the course of the last week, the Supreme Court of the United States has handed down several important decisions in the area of criminal law. However, the one that has generated the most media coverage by far is Birchfield v. North Dakota, a case examining whether law enforcement officials in states that criminalize the refusal of both blood and breath tests must secure a warrant subsequent to a drunk driving arrest.  

In general, the majority of the states -- including Georgia -- have what are known as implied consent laws on the books. These laws essentially declare that in exchange for being granted the privilege of using public roads via the issuance of a driver's license, a person consents to taking a chemical test (blood, breath, urine, etc.) if they are placed under arrest for driving under the influence.

In the event a driver refuses to consent to these chemical tests following a DUI arrest, they are subject to administrative penalties, namely suspension of their driver's license, and their refusal can often be used as evidence in any criminal case.

However, 13 states -- Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia -- have taken things one step further by subjecting drivers to criminal penalties for refusing to consent to these chemical tests.  

In Birchfield -- which consisted of three consolidated DUI cases, including two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota -- the three drivers argued that these laws violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches, as they did not require law enforcement officials to secure a warrant prior to administering blood or breath tests.

In a 5-3 decision, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, the nation's high court ruled that while law enforcement officials in these 13 states can conduct warrantless breath tests pursuant to these implied consent laws, they cannot conduct warrantless blood tests.

Indeed, the decision, which appears to have struck something of a balance between the interest of the states in promoting public safety and privacy rights, held that "[m]otorists may not be criminally punished for refusing to submit to a blood test based on legally implied consent to submit to them."

Here, the distinction appears to have hinged on the degree of intrusion caused by the tests.

"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," reads the opinion. "As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation."

As a result of SCOTUS' decision, one North Dakota driver who refused to submit to a blood test saw his conviction reversed, one North Dakota driver who consented to a blood test under the threat of prosecution saw his case remanded to the state Supreme Court, and one Minnesota driver who refused a breath test saw his conviction upheld.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, it's imperative to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible given the personal and professional stakes involved. 

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
Email Us For A Response

Get A Free Initial Consultation - Send An Email

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

Curious to know why you weren’t given your Miranda rights?

Click Here To Find Out
The Stidham Law Firm
Contact My Office: 470-338-5911 Free consults. Credit cards accepted.

1 West Main Street | Suite B1 | Buford, GA 30518 | Phone: 470-338-5911 | Buford Law Office Map