The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of the people from unreasonable searches and seizures (of persons or property) by the government, as well as the right to privacy. For years, police officers have performed DUI blood tests without the need to prove exigent circumstances, or emergency situations that call for immediate action which enable police to perform a search or seizure without a warrant. At times, these blood tests have even been performed against a suspect’s will. Such actions infringe on our Fourth Amendment rights.
Until recently, it has been standard practice to test DUI suspects regardless of their consent (as it is implied by their driver’s license) and without a warrant. This was done to preserve the legitimacy of the test, as a suspect’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is presumed to deteriorate with the passage of time.
In 2013 in the case of Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled that police could not order blood tests for legally arrested DUI suspects without first acquiring– or attempting to acquire — a warrant for that search if they do not have a good reason to skip the warrant. This reason is considered an exigent circumstance, and from now on such a circumstance cannot be the fact that BAC fluctuates over time, as this is present in every scenario involving the use of a blood test as evidence for DUI.
A Standard DUI Traffic Stop
During a standard DUI traffic stop, a law enforcement officer needs probable cause to pull a suspect over. Tell-tale signs of intoxicated driving include swerving across lanes, making illegal turns, and driving off the road. These actions prompt an officer to pull a driver over, at which point he may question the suspect, conduct field sobriety tests and a breath test if the suspect’s behavior gives probable cause for intoxication.
An arrest is possible without a warrant when probable cause has been established, even though it is technically considered a seizure. This is because the traffic stop occurred in public, which is permissible under United States v. Watson.
Why are warrants important?
A warrant allows a neutral party to take another look at the evidence that sparked a police officer’s suspicion of drunk driving. It is up to this third party to determine whether there is in fact probable cause for the suspect’s arrest and further testing. The requirement for a warrant for blood tests in cases of DUI was decided in Missouri v. McNeely by the U.S. Supreme Court. In McNeely, police lawfully arrested Tyler G. McNeely for DUI based on probable cause. After the arrest, McNeely was taken to a nearby hospital and forced to submit to a blood sample. The sample showed him to be at 0.154 percent, nearly double the legal limit. Based on this sample he was charged with DUI. McNeely moved to suppress the test results arguing that police conducted an unreasonable search without a warrant or his consent. The trial court agreed and suppressed the evidence. The State Supreme Court affirmed that decision.
Why are breath tests excluded?
In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that while warrants should be obtained to conduct blood tests for DUI, the same protections are not required for breath tests. In Birchfield v. North Dakota Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that while blood tests are significantly more intrusive, the physical intrusion of a breath test is negligible. In addition, a blood test reveals much more information about the suspect.
In a partial dissent, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were of the opinion that warrants should be required for both, while Justice Clarence Thomas said he would not require a warrant for either type of search.
Why You Need a DUI Lawyer on Your Side
There are still laws that punish DUI suspects for refusing to submit to a breath test in Florida. A DUI breath, blood, or urine test is not always accurate. If you took a breath test on the Intoxilyzer 8000 anywhere in Florida, there is a chance that your test results could be thrown out entirely in court.
Attorney Brian Gabriel has dedicated years of his career as a criminal defense lawyer to exposing the flaws of the Intoxilyzer 8000, the machine that produces results currently permissible in court as evidence against DUI defendants. He will fight for your right to be protected from unreasonable DUI testing and investigate all the facts of your case. It might be possible to call into question the test results, the breath test machine, or the actions of law enforcement.
If you have been arrested for DUI in Palm Beach County, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Mr. Brian Gabriel. Contact The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel for a free consultation by calling 561-622-5575.