California drivers should be aware of a Supreme Court ruling that could affect DWI laws. The ruling is particularly relevant when it comes to states that have previously charged drivers who refuse to take a breath test with a crime. The ruling would apply to breath tests that are refused when the driver is suspected of driving drunk and police lack a warrant. As of 2015, thirteen states recognize the refusal to take a blood-alcohol test as a crime.
Three states, including California, have decided to examine whether it is necessary to adopt legislation that would criminalize breath test refusal, making this Supreme Court decision particularly relevant. Some estimates claim that hundreds of thousands of drivers are subjected to criminal penalties under such DWI testing laws each year, raising questions of constitutional legality. Such cases could be an infringement of individual search and seizure rights afforded by the constitution, but the application of those rights in roadside arrests is the subject of continued debate. In the past, police have only been allowed to search cars and drivers without arrest warrants for safety reasons and to preserve evidence.
A Minnesota Supreme Court case involving a driver who was arrested for refusing to take a test after police suspected him of a DWI weighs heavily in this decision. While urine and drug tests require a search warrant, Minnesota police claimed that no constitutional rights were violated by the administration of a blood test and determined that breath tests were sought by reasonable means after the driver was arrested. A 2013 court case decided that suspicion of drunk driving alone is not enough reason to search a car or person without getting a warrant first.
The impending Supreme Court ruling is expected to have a significant impact on drivers' rights cases. DWI tests that are unfairly administered on the basis of suspicion of drunk driving may infringe on the driver's constitutional rights. A criminal law attorney may be able to help drivers develop a strong defense and prove that they were tested unconstitutionally.