In June 2016, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Birchfield v. North Dakota. This case asked the court to determine "whether motorists lawfully arrested for drunk driving may be convicted of a crime or otherwise penalized for refusing to take a warrantless test measuring the alcohol in their bloodstream." The court stated that "[b]ecause 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." The court also decided that "motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense." However, as a note a state can still criminalize the refusal to take a warrantless breath test.
After the Supreme Court hands down a decision, it is then up to the lower courts and law enforcement agencies across the country to figure out how to implement the ruling.
In York County, Pennsylvania, law enforcement agencies are adjusting their practices in DUI cases to comply with the Birchfield decision. According to the York Daily Record, if a driver refused a blood test prior to the Supreme Court case the driver would have been "been charged with the most serious DUI offense in Pennsylvania." In order to comply with Birchfield, the York County police have started to obtain warrants "in some situations" and are "looking at when they will apply for them in everyday cases." The York Daily Record stated that the local district attorney's office is also looking at ways to help police officers obtain warrants, such as creating a warrant template.
Officers will also mention to those being asked to take a blood test that they will obtain a warrant if the person refuses. In addition, the "police have started to hold checkpoints where if a driver who's suspected of drunken driving refuses to be tested, officers will get a warrant." Law enforcement in York County are also considering holding 'No Refusal Weekends,' where "[a] command center is set up, and officers apply for a warrant in each case in which someone refuses to give blood."
Kansas is also figuring out how to deal with the Birchfield ruling, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. Prior to Birchfield being decided, the Kansas Supreme Court had dealt with the issue of warrantless chemical DUI tests. The court decided to "[strike] down a Kansas statute making it a misdemeanor to refuse to take a breath test or other kind of field sobriety test." In addition, the court held that "officers could not threaten suspects by telling them that refusal to take such a test could result in more serious penalties." The Kansas Attorney General asked the court to put these rulings on hold shortly after the decision came down until Birchfield and its ilk was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. After the country's high court handed down its ruling, the Attorney General asked that the Kansas Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, which it decided to do. The justices will revisit the case in December of 2016.
A DUI is a serious offense and a conviction can have a significant impact on your life. If you have been charged with driving under the influence or alcohol or drugs, please do not hesitate to contact Fulton County DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today.
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