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Birchfield v. North Dakota | U.S. PATRIOT NEWS & REVIEWS

Birchfield v. North Dakota

In their recent decision, the United States Supreme Court reviewed States’ use of Implied Consent laws to combat drunk driving. In the end, the Court ruled that police may continue to obtained forced breath samples, but must possess a warrant prior to obtaining blood samples. How will this affect your DUI enforcement programs?

Birchfield v. North Dakota was actually a consolidated review of three similar cases, all involving DUI arrests in Implied Consent states from North Dakota and Minnesota.  The first case involved a North Dakota case in which the defendant was charged criminally after refusing to submit to a requested blood alcohol test. The second case involved a Minnesota case in which the defendant refused to submit to a requested breath alcohol test. In the third case, also from North Dakota, the defendant submitted to the requested blood alcohol test but later claimed he was coerced into doing so by threat of additional charges should he refuse.

Although each case differed slightly concerning specific facts, specifically testing requested and defendant’s responses, the court determined the underlying issue of implied consent was enough to bind the cases for review. Ultimately, the court returned a split decision in that the Justices agreed officers have the authority to obtain breath samples for the purpose of testing alcohol content without a warrant. However, if the officers require a blood sample, which the Justices determined was far more intrusive than providing a breath sample, a warrant would be required.

ShotsImportant Points for Officers Conducting DUI Enforcement

  1. The Court did not forbid all implied consent laws. In its review, the Court specifically noted the need for such laws to not only combat driving under the influence but to specifically target repeat offenders who may otherwise refuse to cooperate with an investigation. In those states where the implied consent law is civil, meaning a refusal does not result in additional criminal charges but instead administrative penalties such as license suspension, this ruling will have little if any impact.
  2. Forcing a driver to submit to a chemical blood test is now a violation of the Fourth Amendment and officers must first obtain a warrant before compelling such a test. How states address this has not yet been determined, but until then officers working in the affected states should immediately consult local prosecutor’s office for specific instructions.
  3. Forcing a driver to submit to a chemical breath test is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment and officers may continue to rely on such tests without worry a warrant will be needed. Unfortunately breath tests are not always available nor are they able to detect controlled substances. Officers in effected states should immediately consult with a local prosecutor’s office for specific instructions involving situations when breath testing is not available.
  4. Officers should treat every DUI as if chemical test results are not available. Document everything accurately including the defendant’s behavior, demeanor, statements etc. which may indicate intoxication; conduct field sobriety tests according to the standardized procedures and make sure results are accurately recorded and be prepared to build a later case without the benefit of documented BAC.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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