Blood-Alcohol Test Penalties Get Top U.S. Court Review

Updated on
  • High court to review cases from North Dakota, Minnesota
  • Court to say if states can require blood test without warrant

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether states can make it a crime to refuse to submit to a blood-alcohol test, even when police officers don’t have a warrant.

The court will use appeals from North Dakota and Minnesota to consider whether criminal penalties on the books in as many as 13 states run afoul of the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches.

The case gives the nation’s highest tribunal a new chance to clarify the rules governing roadside sobriety tests. In 2013 a splintered court said that, when possible, police should get a warrant before forcing suspected drunk drivers to have blood drawn.

The lead appeal involves Danny Birchfield, who refused to submit to a chemical blood test in Morton County, North Dakota, in 2013. Birchfield had driven his car off the road and then failed a preliminary breath test performed by a highway patrol officer.

Birchfield was charged with refusing to submit to the blood test, though not for driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge while reserving his right to appeal.

The North Dakota Supreme Court said the test requirement was a reasonable measure to discourage drunken driving.

The cases are Birchfield v. North Dakota, 14-1468; Bernard v. Minnesota, 14-1470; and Beylund v. North Dakota, 14-1507.

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