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Supreme Court to rule on mandatory breath tests

California is one of the states that has considered laws making it a crime to refuse a breath test for alcohol, and on Dec. 11, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases from states where this is the case. In both cases, drivers refused a breath test and were charged with a crime.

The cases occurred in Minnesota and North Dakota. The state won the case in Minnesota. It pointed out that in that case, the person was given a breath test after being taken into custody. The Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot take blood or urine samples without a warrant. They also cannot search a person or vehicle that has been stopped without a warrant unless they must do so for safety reasons or to preserve evidence. In these two cases currently before the Supreme Court, it is being argued that the same should be true for breath tests.

It is currently illegal to refuse a breath test in 13 states. The brief for the high court says that the constitutional rights of the people who have been charged with a crime for the refusal have been violated.

How the Supreme Court rules in this case may affect whether such a law ever comes into effect in California. The case also demonstrates that even laws that are already in place can be challenged. However, this may not be necessary for a defense against drunk driving charges. For example, a person might perform poorly on field sobriety tests because they have a medical condition or are taking medication that makes them appear drunk. A breath test might then be incorrectly administered. An attorney may be able to assist a person accused of DUI at challenging those charges in court on these or other bases.

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John Patrick Ryan has been practicing law for over 20 years. Experienced in criminal law. U.S. Navy Veteran.