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SCOTUS to hear roadside breath test cases

Missouri residents likely know that roadside breath tests are widely used by law enforcement agencies to determine if a motorist is driving while under the influence of alcohol. Missouri is an implied consent state, and a motorist charged with drunk driving who refuses to submit to a toxicology test faces a mandatory suspension of driving privileges. However, several states make it a criminal offense, and the constitutionality of these laws is to be argued before the nation's highest court.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Dec. 11 to hear cases out of North Dakota and Minnesota involving drivers who were charged wit a crime after refusing to submit to a deep lung breath test. Attorneys representing the state of Minnesota, who prevailed before the state's highest court, claim that warrants are obtained before blood or urine tests are demanded and the drivers involved in the cases concerned were charged with a crime before refusing to take a breath test.

Supreme Court justices have tended to favor protecting the civil liberties of motorists when similar cases have been argued before them in the past. A 2013 Supreme Court decision made it necessary for police to obtain a search warrant before demanding blood samples from suspected drunk drivers, and the court has also ruled that police officers may only search pulled-over vehicles without obtaining a warrant to ensure their safety or preserve evidence.

Criminal defense attorneys in Missouri will likely advise clients charged with drunk driving not to refuse to submit to toxicology testing. While the evidence yielded by such tests often seems compelling, its reliability may be challenged if the equipment used has not been properly maintained or the sample tested was handled incorrectly. Prosecutors may also be less willing to reduce drunk driving charges during plea negotiations in cases where the defendant has refused a toxicology test.

Source: The Missouri General Assembly, "Missouri Revised Statutes", Aug. 28, 2015

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