Supreme Court Decision Invalidates Use of Blood Testing in DUI/DWI Arrests

The United States Supreme Court has handed down an important decision regarding the use of blood testing by police officers in arresting motorists for DUI/DWI violations. The decision changes the way that police in Pennsylvania can make arrests and gives defendants more rights in challenging the legality of their arrests and the charges against them. Based on the new ruling, Pennsylvania police may continue to order that motorists submit to a breathalyzer test when there is justification to do so, but may not require motorists to submit to blood tests to determine blood alcohol content (BAC) or penalize them for failing to do so.

BAC Blood Testing Requires a Warrant

In the case of Birchfield v. North Dakota, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding three consolidated DUI/DWI cases. In each case (two of which grew out of arrests in North Dakota, and the other grew from an arrest in Minnesota), the police had stopped motorists they suspected of drunk driving and informed each defendant that they were required to submit to blood testing to determine their BAC or face criminal penalties. The police in both states relied on “implied consent” laws which state that drivers give their implied consent to submit to blood tests by driving on the state’s roads. Pennsylvania also has an implied consent law at Pennsylvania Vehicle Code 1547 which says that drivers who refuse blood tests face up to a 1 year suspension of their license for a first offense.

The Supreme Court held that such forced blood tests violate the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which protect citizens against warrantless searches and seizures by the state. The court ruled that blood tests, which require piercing a person’s skin to obtain the blood, and which give the state physical evidence from the person which can be retained by the state and used for other purposes, thus require the government to obtain a warrant before they can be mandated.

Based on this ruling, the police can no longer require a blood test from a driver without a warrant (which would be highly impractical, given the dissipation of alcohol in a person’s blood and the time it would take to obtain a warrant from a judge) nor can they arrest or otherwise penalize a person for not submitting to a blood test, thus making Pennsylvania’s implied consent law invalid with regard to blood tests.

Breathalyzer Tests Remain Legal but Questionable

In its decision, the Supreme Court held that breathalyzer tests for BAC do remain legal, and they can be distinguished from blood tests because they do not require the same level of intrusion as a blood test (breaking the skin), and they give the state only a reading of your BAC and not a lasting physical specimen that the state can keep as evidence.

That said, breathalyzer tests remain questionable. If you arrested for drunk driving in Pennsylvania based on the measurement of a breathalyzer test, there are numerous ways that you can challenge the test, including calling into question the functioning of the breathalyzer itself as well as the procedures used by the officer. You may also question whether it was constitutional for the officer to stop you in the first place, as an officer cannot stop your car without a constitutional basis to do so.

Experienced, Aggressive Legal Defense in Your Pennsylvania DUI/DWI

For questions on any DUI/DWI issue, or to get experienced, knowledgeable, and aggressive defense in your Pennsylvania DUI/DWI arrest, contact the DUI attorneys at The Martin Law Firm, P.C. today at (215) 646-3980.

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