SUPREME COURT UPDATE: Can they charge me with a crime for refusing the breath test?
On April 20, 2016, the Supreme Court heard argument on Birchfield v. North Dakota. The case addressed the question of whether a State can criminalize the refusal to submit to a chemical test of blood, breath, or urine without a warrant. In both Minnesota and North Dakota, it is a separate crime to refuse to take the State chemical test. Prosecutors for both the State of Minnesota and the State of North Dakota argued that an officer’s request for a breath sample without a warrant protects against evidence spoiling (BAC dropping over a period of time). Interestingly, the Supreme Court Justice’s peppered both lawyers with factual scenarios about the reality that, with today’s technological capabilities, it is fairly easy for a police officer to contact a magistrate judge to obtain a warrant. Interestingly, the Justices did not focus all of their tough questions towards the State. It appears that the Justices had significant feelings about the minimally invasive nature of a breath test in comparison with a blood test. There also seemed to be some confusion about the use of a roadside portable breath test versus a State administered breath test at the jail.
Georgia currently does not have a criminal penalty for refusing to take the State administered breath test. Instead, Georgia law allows officers to request a civil penalty (loss of your license for 12 months) for refusing to take the State administered blood/breath/urine test. However, the decision of the Supreme Court will almost certainly impact Georgia DUI cases going forward. If the court were to side with the defendants in this case, we certainly can expect the opinion to express strong 4th amendment language that could impact other types of DUI cases. On the other hand, if the court were to side with the State of Minnesota and North Dakota, we can expect other States, Georgia included, to introduce legislation that would criminalize the refusal of a State administered test.
Our lawyers will be watching closely when the Supreme Court releases their opinion this fall. For more information about the case, check out the oral arguments at:
We will certainly provide an update when the Supreme Court releases their final ruling.