Major DUI ruling from U.S. Supreme Court

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ground-breaking ruling on DUI law: They have ruled that it is unconstitutional for the States to punish drivers based on BLOOD EVIDENCE obtained without a search warrant or a showing of “exigent” (emergency) circumstances.

The decision, in Birchfield v. North Dakota, tells law enforcement officers that they may not use Implied Consent laws to force drivers suspected of DUI to give blood for the purposes of alcohol testing.

Breath tests, such as the Intoxilyzer 9000 used by Georgia law enforcement, do not violate the 4th Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure, according to this new Supreme Court decision. There are two reasons: one, breath is naturally exhaled, and two, the breath collected for alcohol testing cannot be saved or used for other purposes.

Meanwhile, says the Supreme Court opinion, blood testing is highly invasive because a needle must be used to properly puncture the skin and enter a vein to take blood out. Further, the blood that is drawn can be saved, and potentially it can be used improperly to obtain private information such as DNA or disease status.

There has always been an exigent circumstance exception to the rules of evidence collection, and Birchfield v. North Dakota does not change the exception. Exigent circumstances must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and for the non-lawyer, the easiest way to think of exigent circumstances is as if it were an emergency, when, for some reason, evidence will be lost, destroyed, or damaged during the time it takes to get a search warrant to obtain the evidence. In DUI law, a traffic accident can provide exigent circumstances sufficient to allow a warrantless search of blood evidence.

For the run-of-the-mill DUI stop, though, the Supreme Court is clear: Because the less-invasive breath test is available, officers cannot require blood evidence without a search warrant or exigent circumstances; nor can drivers be punished for refusing to submit to blood testing under Implied Consent laws.

IF you are currently facing prosecution on the basis of a DUI-blood test or DUI-blood test refusal, contact Deal Law Firm today to learn more about how the Supreme Court ruling may affect your case.