After a recent Supreme Court ruling, the way that the police handle DUIs could change. Until a recent ruling, police officers often threatened drivers who refused breathalyzers or blood tests with penalties. However, the Supreme Court issued a new ruling. They said that breathalyzer refusal could result in a penalty. But a blood test refusal requires a warrant. Police officers cannot penalize anyone for declining a blood test without a warrant.
Breathalyzer Refusal and Blood Test Refusal
The Supreme Court ruling was based on three drunk driving incidents. In one of those incidents, William Bernard Jr refused to take a breathalyzer in Minnesota. Danny Birchfield refused to take a blood test in North Dakota. As a result, he faced penalties. And in North Dakota, Steve Beylund agreed to a blood test. He only agreed after the police threatened to penalize him for refusing the test.
All three of the cases relate to the refusal of alcohol testing. Many states now have implied consent laws. When someone gets behind the wheel of a car, they consent to a breathalyzer. In an implied consent state, any driver could face penalties for refusing a breathalyzer. Those penalties can be quite harsh. This Supreme Court case challenged the legality of implied consent. If the court ruled that demanding a breathalyzer without a warrant was unconstitutional, DUIs would be very different.
Although the court did not come to that decision, they did come to an interesting conclusion.When the Supreme Court examined the cases, they made a 5-3 decision on breathalyzer refusal and blood test refusal. They decided that a breathalyzer refusal did not require a warrant. If someone refuses to take a breathalyzer, there can be prosecution against them. However, the court decided a different outcome for blood test refusal.
They stated that an individual could refuse a blood test without facing a penalty. In the concluding comments, one judge explained that blood tests were too invasive to require. Instead of blowing into a tube as you do with a breathalyzer test, you face an invasion of privacy with a blood draw. The police can require a blood test, but only if they get a warrant for it first.
In addition to issuing a ruling on mandatory breathalyzers and blood tests, the Supreme Court also ruled on the three cases. In William Bernard Jr.’s case, the court ruled that his conviction would remain. The court ruled that mandatory breathalyzers were legal, which means his conviction was accurate. However, Danny Birchfield had a different outcome. He faced prosecution for refusing a blood test, which the Supreme Court declared to be illegal. Therefore, the court overturned his conviction. Steve Beylund’s case was sent back to lower courts for further deliberation.
While the decision made by the Supreme Court is final, there was some disagreement. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained that they believed breathalyzers should also require warrants. Had the other judges agreed with them, the police could not issue penalties for breathalyzer refusal. Only one judge (Justice Clarence Thomas) felt that neither test should require a warrant.
Despite the disagreement, the decision still stands. No police officer in any state of the US can demand a blood test without a warrant. If he wants a blood test, he needs to go to a judge first.
Breathalyzer Refusal in Rhode Island
There are 13 states with implied consent laws, and Rhode Island is one of them. Prior to this Supreme Court ruling, the state required you to consent to a blood, urine, or breath test at the request of the arresting officer. However, the new ruling eliminates blood tests from that list. Without a warrant, an officer cannot require you to comply with a blood test.
Although the state still requires you to take a breathalyzer, you can still refuse it. But doing so comes with consequences. A first-time offender faces a six-month license suspension. He also faces between ten and 60 hours of community service. Additionally, he can face a fine of between $200 and $500. For second-time offenders, the penalty worsens. The license suspension is for one year. The community service requirement rises to between 60 and 100 hours. And the fine rises to between $600 and $1000. On top of those penalties, he may face jail time. A third-time offender receives a two to five-year license suspension, 100 hours of community service, and fine between $800 and $1000. Like a second-time offender, he may also face jail time.
Although the consequences may seem harsh, they are sometimes better than the penalty of a DUI. If you know that you will fail a breathalyzer, you might want to consider refusing it. No matter what you do, you should consider finding a lawyer to represent you. DUI laws are always changing, and you never know what your chances may be in court. With the help of a lawyer, you may be able to beat your charges.