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The Constitutionality of Implied Consent Laws

| Apr 24, 2016 | DWI

On April 20, 2016, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could mean changes to implied consent laws across the country. The case, Birchfield v. North Dakota, presents the question of whether or not a driver can be criminally charged for refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test after an arrest for DUI. The law at the center of the case made it a misdemeanor for a driver suspected of a driving under the influence to refuse to submit to testing that would determine the driver’s blood alcohol content. These kinds of laws or others allowing for a driver’s license to be suspended or revoked for testing refusal can be found in every state across the United States.

Implied consent laws, so called because and every driver who is issued a driver’s license are presumed to have consented to such testing, generally allow law enforcement officials to conduct testing to see if a driver is impaired. The results of the test can later be used as evidence in court when the driver is criminally charged with DWI. In New York State, a driver is required to submit to chemical testing when arrested for driving while intoxicated or while impaired by drugs. Although the police officer may ask for your permission to take the test, legally you are presumed to have already consented to the testing. In New York State, the failure to submit to the testing is not in itself a criminal offense, although it can lead to the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license and the imposition of civil penalties of over $500.

Law enforcement officials have often argued that because a person’s blood alcohol level dissipates over time, there is an immediate or exigent reason to require testing without first obtaining search warrants. However, the Supreme Court in an earlier case ruled that while this may be true in some cases, it does not create a general exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement for a warrant before conducting nonconsensual searches. In doing so, the Supreme Court did not invalidate the idea of implied consent laws; it only held that once a person refuses the test – thereby revoking any “implied” consent – the police have to get a warrant to compel the test. The Birchfield v. North Dakota case may provide further answers as to what other requirements law enforcement officials should meet before compelling drivers to take a DWI blood test that may later be used against them in court.

Drivers should note that a warrant is not required for a driver who knowingly and voluntarily consents to a blood alcohol test. Furthermore, these rulings do not affect field sobriety tests, and police officers pulling someone over for on suspicion of driving while impaired may still generally conduct these without first obtaining a warrant.

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If you are fighting your license suspension after a DWI/DUI stop, or are facing DWI/DUI charges in Syracuse, New York, contact experienced Syracuse DWI/DUI attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation today.