Supreme Court Looks at BAC Test Cases

There are at least a dozen states around the U.S. where it is a crime to refuse to take a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) test when you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. And Michigan is one of those states. But the United States Supreme Court is about to take on that issue, and decide once and for all whether or not the individual states have the right to criminalize a person’s refusal to submit.

The cases that the Supreme Court will be addressing don’t actually come out of Michigan, having originated in Minnesota and North Dakota. But the decision they make will almost certainly affect Michigan drivers. It will, in fact, affect drivers all over the nation.

State Supreme Courts in both North Dakota and Minnesota have ruled that the BAC laws do not violate constitutional rights. But not everyone agrees with that. The individuals involved in the three cases that are up for review by the Supreme Court, all claim that their fourth amendment rights were violated when they were charged for refusing to submit to a BAC test.

The U.S. constitution protects the rights of individuals against “unreasonable search and seizure” with regard to their “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” In this light, the three defendants are claiming that criminalizing their refusal to submit to a BAC test, which is a form of search, was a violation of their rights.

All three defendants were arrested for drunk driving. However in two of those three cases, the individuals refused to submit to the BAC tests police wanted to administer, and as a result were charged for failure to submit. The third person submitted to the test, but then later tried unsuccessfully to have the results thrown out of court for being unconstitutional.

The three also claim that warrantless searches are justified by the law only in circumstances that are deemed “extraordinary.” Drunk driving, they claim, is hardly extraordinary, and therefore their privacy should have been respected. But in both North Dakota and Minnesota, state supreme courts have deemed BACs acceptable, calling them “reasonable tools” in the effort to deter drunk driving.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers must first attempt to obtain a search warrant before ordering blood tests for those arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Exceptions to this rule, they said, should be decided on a case by case basis. So it will be interesting to see what comes out of this hearing, and what the Court finally decides. We will keep you posted, should the final decision affect Michigan drivers in any way.

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