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Supreme Court Finds Warrantless Blood Draws in DUI Arrests are Unconstitutional, but Warrantless Breath Tests in DUI Arrests are Acceptable

Florida’s driving under the influence laws are changing once again due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court 7-1 ruling, which found that warrantless blood draws in DUI arrests were, in fact, unconstitutional. Florida is one of several states that have created criminal penalties to drivers who refuse to submit to an alcohol blood or breath test. According to Florida and the other states that had criminalized a driver’s refusal to submit to an alcohol test, the reason for the criminal penalties remained in the concept of “implied consent”. In others, because drivers are provided the privilege of driving, they have given their consent to be tested where there is a belief that they are driving under the influence. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, stated that this “implied consent” concept, did not apply in warrantless blood draws, but still applied to alcohol breath tests.

Birchfield v. North Dakota: States’ Interest in Criminalizing “Refusal to Submit” to BAC Tests

Three cases were consolidated under the decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota because they dealt with complaints of violations against the motorists’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. In all three cases, the motorists had been pulled over by state troopers and arrested for drunk driving. In the North Dakota case, the state trooper told the motorist, Birchfield, that he was under obligation to submit to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test and to refuse could lead to criminal penalties. Upon revision of the facts, the U.S. Supreme Court found that warrantless alcohol breath tests were not a violation of the motorists’ Fourth Amendment rights, but that a warrantless blood draw was a violation.

The Difference Between Breath and Blood Tests in Individual Privacy Interests

The U.S. Supreme Court justices recognized the inherent difference between breath and blood tests and the impact that they would have on personal privacy interests. Breath tests were not considered to trigger significant individual privacy concerns because breath tests do not physically intrude on the privacy of an individual like a blood test. A blood test involves the piercing of the skin to collect a sample. In a breath test, the sample is the type that helps to register the BAC reading, but it cannot be collected. A blood sample, however, is collected, reveals the subject’s DNA information, and is held in the possession of the government. Overall, blood tests are significantly more intrusive than a breath test whereby the motorist is only required to blow a deep breath into the breathalyzer.

States’ Fear About Loss/Destruction of Evidence

Though states have a serious interest in deterring individuals from driving drunk on their state roads due to the public safety concerns that are triggered by drunk driving, the states’ legislation that criminalizes the refusal to submit to a BAC test must be narrowly tailored to their objective. The state is worried that in the case where a motorist refuses to submit to a BAC test and requires a warrant before he/she will submit, the time it will take to get the warrant will lead to the diminishing of the BAC level. In other words, as more time passes to obtain the warrant, the body is naturally metabolizing the alcohol, lowering the motorist’s BAC, and thus, the destruction of the evidence of drunk driving.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a DUI offense and were forced to submit to a blood test, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can guide you through the criminal justice system. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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