On April 20, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about criminal penalties for drivers who refuse to take sobriety tests. The case has serious implications for thousands of drivers throughout the country who are stopped under suspicion of DWI each year.
At the center of the debate is the issue of implied consent. Implied consent is consent granted through a person’s action or inaction. In DWI cases, states use the idea of implied consent to say that drivers voluntarily agree to submit to sobriety tests if they have been stopped for a DWI as a condition for using public roads.
The Key Issues
Opponents of implied consent statutes, including almost every St. Paul criminal defense attorney, claim that requiring drivers to submit to sobriety tests is a violation of the person’s Fourth Amendment freedoms. The nature of the test, blood or breath is immaterial, because no person should be criminalized for refusing an unlawful search.
Supporters argue that implied consent laws are one of the best ways to prevent drunk driving accidents. The cornerstone of the argument is that driving is a privilege, not a right, and drivers must submit to sobriety tests in order to promote the public good.
Changes in communications technology have put the ideas of implied consent and warrantless arrests in the spotlight, according to a St. Paul criminal defense attorney. During oral arguments, the Justices argued mobile technology allows officers to communicate with judges and secure warrants for DWI arrests any time, eliminating the need for implied consent.
Impact On DWI
Observers in the courtroom believe the Supreme Court will decide against the state of Minnesota, and rule felony charges for refusing to take the test unconstitutional. The Court is likely to prohibit criminal penalties for people who refuse to take sobriety tests, unless the State presents a warrant at the time of the request. It is also likely that the Court will continue to support civil penalties, such as the suspension of the driver’s license, for test refusals.
A St. Paul criminal defense attorney will be more equipped to fight a DWI arrest when clients are no longer required to take a sobriety test that is admissible in court.
The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in just a few weeks, and most legal observers expect the Court to continue its current trend of protecting citizens against unlawful search and seizure, as well as warrantless arrests.