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by Douglas Sughrue, Esq. Douglas Sughrue, Esq. No Comments

SCOTUS ruling could impact breath test administration

While it is not the case in Pennsylvania, in 13 states it is possible for a driver who is suspected of being impaired to be charged with a separate crime for refusing to consent to a breath or blood test without a warrant having been issued. However, those laws may be in jeopardy after arguments on a case was heard by the Supreme Court. This was even after the court acknowledged that states already have the right to fine drivers or suspend their licenses for failure to submit to testing.

In all 50 states, people have given implied consent to such a test when they apply for a driver’s license. What made the justices skeptical about the legality of the laws making refusal a separate criminal offense was the ease in which a warrant could theoretically be obtained. Some of them also seemed to be surprised to hear that most Breathalyzer tests take place at police stations as opposed to the site of the traffic stop.

As part of their line of questioning to lawyers for the states of Minnesota and North Dakota, they asked why making an extra phone call would be so hard. They also noted that magistrates were available 24 hours a day, so timing was not likely to hinder an ability to get a warrant.

A driver’s license suspension often results after drunk driving charges have been issued, but this is deemed an administrative sanction rather than a criminal penalty. This can be appealed at a subsequent DMV hearing, which often takes place well before the criminal charge is heard. As a conviction on DUI charges can have serious ramifications, people who are facing them may want to have legal assistance in constructing a defense strategy. One line of challenge could be to the way that the sobriety tests were administered.