With the current 4-4 ideological split on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is still possible to have substantive legal decisions made, if at least five of the justices agree with one side or another in any given case. Such was the case in June of 2016, when a 6-2 decision was handed down in a consolidated group of cases referred to as Birchfield v. North Dakota. An important change to Florida’s previous system of “implied consent” was made in this ruling, and it is worth examining to understand what to expect in the unfortunate event of a DUI stop.
What Implied Consent Means
The theory of “implied consent” means that by using any of Florida’s public roads, a driver agrees that the state has a right to administer breath or blood tests in order to determine if a driver is operating a vehicle illegally. The BAC threshold in Florida is .08, as it is in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A driver who refuses to consent to breath or blood testing after being arrested in Florida is subject to having their license suspended for at least twelve months. Implied consent laws also provided for fines or imprisonment in other states.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Birchfield cases effectively split the idea in half when it comes to DUI testing. The Court’s decision drew a dividing line between tests administered by taking a breath sample, and those administered by drawing blood. The blood sample will be examined first, because it was the first fact pattern presented by the Court, in the cases of defendants Danny Birchfield and Steve Michael Beylund.
Blood Testing Found To Be Invasive
The Court pointed out that blood tests involved “piercing the skin and removing a part of the defendant’s body.” This is, by definition, an invasive test. In addition, the Court recognized that a blood test “places in the hands of law enforcement authorities a sample that can be preserved and from which it is possible to extract information beyond a simple BAC reading.”
The Court decided that since breath tests are effective for determining whether a driver is intoxicated, and since there should be a limit on the consequences of implied consent, blood tests were not applicable under this legal doctrine. In other words, a driver under suspicion of drunk driving can now refuse a blood test without threat of punishment under implied consent. This would appear to be a favorable ruling, but it comes with an enormous price.
How A Breath Test Is Different
The Court referenced the 1989 ruling in Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Assn. to determine that breath tests do not carry “significant privacy concerns” for defendants. The fact that a breath test does not provide a lasting sample to law enforcement was also viewed favorably by the Court.
Given the relative ease with which a breath sample can be obtained from a defendant, the Court apparently saw it as the preferred manner of testing BAC. But they added an additional element that virtually guarantees breath testing for all defendants in the future.
The Court determined that “the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrests for drunk driving. The impact of breath tests on privacy is slight, and the need for BAC testing is great.” This means that law enforcement can now obtain breath samples without needing a warrant to do so. Blood testing, on the other hand, now requires that a warrant first be obtained. Why would any law enforcement agency ever provide blood testing, when a warrantless breath test will do instead? Clearly, the answer is that they won’t.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Do you know what your rights are? If you are located in the Palm Beach, Florida area and in need of quality legal defense, you should reach out to a seasoned attorney. Scott Skier has years of experience with defending people from a variety of charges. Attorney Skier can help you through the legal process from start to finish and make sure that you understand the process completely. Courtrooms can be an intimidating place, so you should have an attorney who can rise to the challenge. Contact him today for a no obligation consultation.