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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Stephanie proved to be superbly professional in her demeanor, but in telephone and email correspondence she demonstrated a very real sense of personal commitment. I retained her for a family member's case; I live out of state and I needed someone to advocate the family's concern to our loved one, but to also fill the role of advocate for the defendant. She exceeded my expectations in every way. I very much appreciate and respect her knowledge of the law but also her ability to interject the "story" behind the alcohol/drug offense defendant, and then present a truthful plan of rehabilitation for the client (my sister). In-fact, while she made absolutely no promises or predictions as to the ruling--the outcome for my sister and in-turn for all of us--was surprisingly better than we could have hoped for. When asked her impression of Stephanie, the first word my sister used is "Compassionate," quickly followed by the same descriptive characteristics detailed above.
Patrick on Birdeye, 2015

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