When drivers in Missouri are suspected of driving drunk, police officers usually request some type of blood-alcohol test. If a driver refuses to submit to a breath, blood or urine test, the driver could face administrative penalties like fines or license suspension. Some people have argued that making such refusal a separate crime in the absence of a warrant is unconstitutional.
On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against criminal penalties for drivers who refuse to submit to warrantless drunk driving tests. Thirteen states charge drivers with crimes if they opt out of blood-alcohol tests while other states impose civil administrative sanctions. The justices are expected to reach their decision by the end of June.
The decision before the Supreme Court is not whether states can require drivers to take these tests, but whether they can criminalize a driver’s refusal to take one. After hearing arguments, several of the justices wondered why police couldn’t secure a search warrant before testing a driver since they can usually be secured quickly at any hour of the day. Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that the issue at hand was about dispensing with a very important legal requirement that a warrant is needed before an intrusive search.
When people apply for a driver’s license, they give their implied consent to submit to such a test if suspected of driving while intoxicated. However, even if they take one and fail, it does not necessarily mean that they are guilty as charged. A criminal defense attorney can in some cases challenge a breath test, for example, on the basis that the machine was improperly calibrated.