Late in June, the Supreme Court established new legal parameters for testing the blood alcohol content (BAC) of persons suspected of drunk driving. Namely, they ruled that individuals may refuse warrantless blood tests and suffer no punishment, but that the refusal of a warrantless breathalyzer test can land one in jail.
The decision hinges on the Justices’ interpretation of the Fourth Amendment – the statute that protects American citizens from unlawful search-and-seizure. Simply put, in the vast majority of situations, police need to obtain a warrant if they want to search an individual’s property or person. Yet in cases where an individual is caught “red-handed” while committing a crime, the law states that authorities may not need a warrant.
Some Justices fear the new law restricts individuals’ rights
According to The Atlantic, the majority of Justices do not believe breathalyzer tests are unduly invasive.
“The impact of breath tests on privacy is slight,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “and the need for BAC testing is great.” During proceedings, he noted that, “The reason why people don’t want to submit to a blood-alcohol test is that they don’t want their blood alcohol measured; it’s not that they object so much to blowing into a straw.”
Yet some Justices are wary of the implications of not requiring a warrant for breathalyzer tests. “I fear that if the Court continues down this road,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement will become nothing more than a suggestion.”
What this means for drivers
As things stand, persons who refuse a breathalyzer test in Florida are subject to arrest. Nevertheless, for many this remains the best option. Criminal charges can always be challenged and, in DUI cases, are often dismissed. But breathalyzer results can be entered into court evidence, and can play a central role in an individual’s conviction – resulting in an irrevocable criminal record.