Supreme Court Ruling: More Warrants for DUIs

US Supreme Court decision

US Supreme Court

On Thursday, the US Supreme Court ruled in two DUI cases. The cases centered around implied consent laws for breath tests and blood draws for DUI arrests.

Most states have implied consent laws for DUI breath and/or blood tests. When you get your license, you generally agree that you will submit to a breath/blood test. If you refuse to submit the test, in most states, they will suspend your driver’s license. However, about a dozen states have made it a criminal offense to refuse the test. Legally, a breath or blood test is a search of someone’s breath or blood for evidence of their guilt. The searches for breath and blood have operated outside of the search warrant requirement based off of two exemptions:

  1. You don’t need a warrant for a consensual search. If a suspect agrees to submit to the breath/blood test, they are consenting to the search. However, it could be considered coercive to charge somebody criminally for refusing to give consent to a test; that would make the test no longer consensual.
  2. Officers are allowed to fully search a person incident to a lawful arrest. Because a person’s breath or blood is on their person, the search to obtain the breath or blood samples could be considered part of a search incident to arrest.

The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld implied consent laws that impose criminal charges against people who refuse a breath test. In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that the burden of getting a warrant for each DUI arrest would be extreme, and that courts would be unable to handle it.

Justice Alito wrote:

“Particularly in sparsely populated areas, it would be no small task for courts to field a large new influx of warrant applications that could come on any day of the year and at any hour.”

The court ruled differently on blood draws. Blood draws are more invasive, and the court ruled that states cannot impose criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood draw, unless the officer first obtained warrant. However, the court did note that it’s OK for states to impose civil penalties for refusing a blood draw.

What This Means to Officers

It will be business as usual for most officers. If you work in a state that imposes criminal penalties for failure to submit to a blood draw, then things may change for you. The court did not prohibit consensual blood draws, but there can be no criminal consequences for refusal. If the suspect doesn’t grant consent, then you will have to obtain a search warrant in order to complete a blood draw.

You can read the full decision HERE