The highest court in the nation recently cast doubt on the constitutionality of North Dakota's tough DUI laws. Last Wednesday, the justices of the Supreme Court spent more than an hour debating the legality of warrantless breath tests. What can we learn from their deliberations, and what could it mean for you if you are pulled over?
Three Cases Dispute Warrantless Breath Tests
In 2013, North Dakota passed a law that toughened penalties for suspected drunk drivers who refuse to chemical testing. Under that law, refusing a breath or blood test is a crime that can be punished in the same manner as drunk driving. Similar laws exist in 13 other states, including Minnesota, but they may not survive the Supreme Court's scrutiny.
The court has heard three combined cases, two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota, involving breath test refusal. In all three cases, individuals who refused breath tests were charged with crimes. Their attorneys have argued that the police should have gotten a warrant first. They are challenging the 2013 breath test law, arguing that it essentially forces drivers to give up their constitutional rights.
Your Fourth Amendment Rights Are On The Line
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution grants all Americans freedom from unlawful searches and seizure. In the context of a DUI investigation, breath tests are typically considered a search. By extension, many people believe that requiring a breath test without a warrant should be against the law.
The justices are faced with the difficult task of balancing the state's interest in fighting drunk driving with the public interest to be free from warrantless searches. Many of them expressed doubt about the constitutionality of the law, wondering why the police can't get a warrant before requiring a breath test.
In 2013, the high court heard a similar case involving blood tests and ruled that officers may not conduct DUI blood tests without a warrant. However, there is a possibility that they may set a different standard for breath tests, which are significantly less intrusive.
The Law Still Stands - For Now
While we wait for the justices to deliberate and issue a ruling, North Dakota's law regarding breath tests still stands. If you have been accused of any crime, including DUI, it is important that you fully understand your rights and do everything possible to protect them. A knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer is a critical ally while the state is building its case.