High Court Rules On DUI Evidence
The Supreme Court of the United States approved measures like Florida’s Refusal to Submit law while issuing more defendant-friendly orders in other areas.
Facts and Procedural History
Most states, including Florida, are “implied consent” states, which means that drivers agreed to provide either breath or blood BAC samples when they received their driver’s licenses. In addition to license suspension for refusal to submit to a test, about a dozen states, including Florida, have made it a crime to refuse a test request.
In this particular matter, the Justices consolidated three cases – two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota – into Birchfield v. North Dakota. In the first case, state troopers in the Roughrider State arrested Danny Birchfield on suspicion of DUI. Mr. Birchfield refused to provide a breath or blood chemical sample and was charged under that state’s version of the Refusal to Submit law; he later argued that his conviction violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the second case, William Bernard, Jr., of Minnesota, refused to take a DUI breath test and was charged with first degree refusal, a misdemeanor. In the third case, which was also from North Dakota, Steve Beylund agreed to a blood test, and later said that the officer’s warning, which included the fact that he could face criminal charges for refusing to provide a specimen, amounted to unlawful coercion.
The respective trial courts sided with Mr. Bernard in the second case and with the prosecutors in the two North Dakota cases; appeals courts later either affirmed or reinstated all three convictions.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito declared that warrantless blood draws were unconstitutional but that it was legal to criminalize the refusal to provide a specimen.
According to Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association and some other cases, blood draws are very invasive and thus fall outside the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine. Moreover, during oral arguments, two justices noted that officers could obtain search warrants in about ten minutes in most states.
The fact that the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions did not apply to breath tests, along with a strong government interest in this area, justified the existence of state refusal to submit laws.
Justice Alito’s opinion ominously begins with the phrase “Drunk drivers take a grisly toll on the Nation’s roads.” Then, after an extensive discussion of DUI laws, he concludes that “toughened drunk driving laws” have brought about “a dramatic decrease in alcohol-related fatalities.” So, before the Court even starts discussing the cases, the handwriting is on the wall as some justices seemed determined to find a way to uphold strict DUI laws.
This attitude is not confined to Washington, D.C. Many jurors in the Treasure Coast area either have a subtle yet discernible prejudice in this area or are very receptive to a prosecutor’s exhortations that “tough drunk driving laws save lives.”
Perhaps the best way to deal with this reality is to let the prosecutor preach as much as possible during jury selection. This strategy may be the best way to identify jurors that are overly sympathetic towards the prosecutor, so that they can be removed before the trial even begins.
Partner with Attorneys Who Are On Your Side
At Eighmie Law Firm, P.A., we get to work quickly and aggressively defend individuals against DUI charges. Contact us today for a confidential consultation. We routinely handle cases in Lucie County and nearby jurisdictions.