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Is it legal to be penalized for not taking a Breathalyzer test?

Our country prides itself on the constitutional rights afforded to its citizens. One such right currently under fire is that of the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. This right, established under the Fourth Amendment, is being debated within the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

The issue involves whether or not officers can punish a driver for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test. A Breathalyzer test, it is argued, is a search. Searches generally require a warrant. As a result, penalizing a driver for refusing to agree to the search without the warrant should not be treated as a crime.

What were the other arguments in this case?

There are exceptions to the warrant requirement. These exceptions include the special-needs exception. This exception allows for a search to be conducted without a warrant under two circumstances: either the officer is in fear of harm or there is the possibility that evidence will be lost.

Those in favor of the legality of these punishments argue that evidence is lost if a search is not conducted promptly. The presence of alcohol within the driver's system, they contend, is metabolized and an accurate blood alcohol content (BAC) cannot be calculated.

This argument is countered with the fact that getting a warrant often takes a matter of minutes. As a result, why would the state need to move forward without one?

How will the court rule?

Although SCOTUS heard these arguments in April, it has yet to issue a ruling. The justices appeared to push both the state and the defense, asking difficult questions of both sides.

While it is uncertain which side the court will take, it does appear likely that the court will rule against the gathering of blood for testing purposes without a warrant.

How will this affect me?

Rulings issued by SCOTUS have a national impact. As a result, the ruling will impact how penalties for refusing a Breathalyzer test are applied throughout the country.

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Leo V. Duval Attorney At Law

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