U.S. Supreme Court issues split decision in DUI refusal cases

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its Opinion in three consolidated cases that dealt with states that criminalize anyone who is arrested for a DUI and refuses to submit to a blood or breath test (Birchfield v. North Dakota).

The short version of it is that the Court did not find a problem with state laws that make it a crime to refuse a breath test.  The Court found that a breath test falls within the right of law enforcement to conduct a search subject to arrest and that one’s right to bodily integrity or to avoid self-incrimination were not significantly affected enough to overcome this.

However, the Court found that blood tests are a significant invasion of one’s right to bodily integrity and privacy, and that states could not require warrantless blood draws in DUI cases, except in exceptional circumstances.

Currently, Illinois does not criminalize breath test refusals, however, it does impose a license suspension of one year for first offenders and three years for repeat offenders who refuse to submit to breath, blood or urine testing subsequent to a DUI arrest.  However, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is permissible, perhaps that will change.

Personally, I feel that it is deep within our traditions to say no to government, to insist on our bodily integrity, to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and to have the right to refuse to provide evidence that may incriminate ourselves.  I feel that this opinion, like so many when it comes to DUI, ignores our legal history and tradition, and ignores the important Constitutional protections that makes America the freest nation in the world, merely to make it easier to convict DUI defendants.  This approach is short-sighted.  I hope that our Illinois legislators don’t take this opportunity to further chip away out our freedom and liberty.

U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether states can criminalize DUI test refusals

In Illinois, the only consequence for a DUI suspect who refuses to take a blood, breath or urine is a license suspension which is longer than the suspension he or she would receive had he or she taken and “failed” the test (and there is no suspension for someone who “passes” the test).

However, thirteen states make it an additional crime for a person to refuse such a test.  The Minnesota law was recently struck down but the case, and two others, have been taken up by the United States Supreme Court.

From SCOTUSblog:

In a move that could have a nationwide effect on the roadside actions of police officers, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether a blood or breath test for drunk driving can be made without a search warrant and whether, if there is no warrant, an individual can be charged with a crime for refusing to take such a test.  The Justices took on three cases raising the issue: two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota.  Thirteen states make it a crime to refuse to take a drunk-driving test….

The drunk-driving cases provide the Court with something of a sequel to its ruling in 2013 in Missouri v. McNeely, which left the clear impression that, if police have enough time, they should get a warrant before taking a test of a suspected drunk driver.  The Court ruled that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not always amount to an emergency situation that permits a DUI test without a warrant.

In North Dakota, state laws bars a person from driving in the state if he or she refuses to submit to a chemical test, of blood, breath or urine, to determine alcohol concentration.  It makes refusal to take such a test open to prosecution for a crime that carries the same punishment as a conviction for drunk-driving.   In Minnesota, state law makes it a crime to refuse an officer’s request to take a chemical test for alcohol in the blood, if the individual has been validly arrested for drunk driving.  The cases to be reviewed by the Court involve either a blood or breath test.

Lawyers for the three men involved in the appeals said that the issues they were raising were coming up more frequently in the wake of the McNeely decision.  And they argued that the decisions by the state supreme courts in these cases conflict with the McNeely ruling.  The Supreme Court, at its private Conference on Friday, considered thirteen cases on these issues, and chose the three from that list — all filed by the same attorneys.

The three apparently were chosen because they involve different legal scenarios: in two of the cases, the individuals were convicted for declining to take a test — one a blood test, the other a breath test. In the third case, the individual was convicted of drunk driving after he refused field sobriety tests and then was taken to a hospital for a blood test against his wishes.  The Court will be reviewing that individual’s punishment for refusing the field tests — a two-year suspension of his driver’s license — instead of the jail time and fine he got for the drunk-driving conviction.

The three cases to be reviewed are Birchfield v. North Dakota, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. North Dakota.  The three will be consolidated, and will be heard together at a one-hour hearing.

If I am arrested for a DUI, should I take a breath (or blood or urine) test?

Here is another article that I wrote for legal publisher nolo.com, entitled “Should an Illinois DUI Suspect Consent to a Chemical Test?

The full url is http://dui.drivinglaws.org/dui-illinois-consent-chemical-test.htm

Study raises questions about accuracy of blood tests in DUI cases

Here is a link for a study entitled “The Criminal Justice System Creates Incentives for False Convictions.”

From an article describing the study:

A recent analysis published in the Criminal Justice Ethics academic journal suggests when technicians perform forensic analysis of blood and other evidence for cases such as drunk driving, the results can be influenced by built-in financial incentives to produce a conviction. Syracuse University Professor Roger Koppl joined Meghan Sacks from Fairleigh Dickinson University argue that even if false conviction rates are very low, a 3 percent error rate could put 33,000 innocent individuals behind bars every year.

The primary problem, according to the paper, is that fourteen states reward crime labs with a bonus for each conviction they generate. North Carolina pays a $600 bounty “upon conviction” to the law enforcement agency whose lab “tested for the presence of alcohol.” These incentives do not necessarily encourage scientists to lie, rather they tend to create an observation bias when measuring, for example, a blood specimen for its blood alcohol content.

“We tend to see what we expect to see and what we hope to see,” Koppl and Sacks wrote. “Incentives (‘motivation’ and ‘hope’) can skew honest errors because they influence perception.”

When there is a reward for a guilty result, a lab technician will not double-check test results that are in the guilty range, though he would be more likely to double-check results that show innocence. The same effects do not work in favor of the defense, which usually depends solely on the forensic report produced by the prosecution.

“The subjectivity of forensic science matters in part because of the twofold monopoly in forensic science,” Koppl and Sacks wrote. “First, evidence is typically examined by one crime lab only. In this sense, the crime lab receiving a bit of evidence has a monopoly on examination of that evidence.”

Radley Balko, author of the new book Rise of the Warrior Cop, cites the paper as an example of the need for reform.

“They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions,” Balko wrote. “Their findings are then presented to juries as the careful, meticulous work of an objective scientist. No wonder there have been so many scandals.”

In 2009, a crime lab in Colorado Springs, Colorado was caught certifying at least 82 DUI blood tests with falsely high readings. A whistleblower in Washington, DC revealed in 2010 that the city had been using faulty breathalyzer machines for more than a decade.

Koppl and Sacks called for more research into possible structural changes that could restore the balance. Some examples include privatizing crime labs and providing a voucher so that poor defendants could hire a private lawyer instead of depending on a public prosecutor.

DuPage Prosecutors have new plan to get your blood sample

According to a story today, DuPage County will have phlebotomists on hand to draw blood of those suspected of DUI.

The story states that the phlebotomists are for those cases where a person refuses a breath test and demands a blood test.  I have a hard time believing this, since this rarely ever happens.

in my experience, which is vast, blood tests occur in DUI s because (1) the motorist was injured and was taken to a hospital, not a police station, (2) the officer suspects drug use, which can’t be detected by a breath test, or (3) it is a “no-refusal” in which the motorist refused a breath test, and the police seek to obtain a blood sample without consent. In situation (1), the motorist is already at a hospital, where a blood sample can be easily obtained, so there is no need to hire phlebotomists for that scenario.

I suspect that the only reason to maintain phlebotomists on-call for blood draws is for reason (3) the “no-refusal” situation.  I have discussed no-refusals here and here, including the following:

Illinois courts have stated that while defendants do not have a right to refuse a test, the police cannot use excessive force to draw blood from the individual.  People v. Jones, 214 Ill.2d 187 and People v. Farris, 2012 IL App (3d) 100199.

Police and prosecutors seek to justify these blood draws under the grounds that blood alcohol evidence is the strongest evidence of intoxication, and that because alcohol eliminates from the blood rapidly, it must be drawn soon after the arrest.

…the United States Supreme Court announced that it would be hearing a case from Missouri where a police officer took a recalcitrant motorist to a hospital and had his blood drawn.  The Missouri courts suppressed the blood test, because it was taken without a warrant or a showing of “exigent circumstances.”

If the Supreme Court overturns the Missouri decision, then police will be authorized to drag anyone they suspect of driving while intoxicated to a facility where their blood can be drawn.  This strikes me as a very serious infringement on our liberty.

It seems to me that DuPage is getting ready in advance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Missouri case, expecting that the Court will allow warrantless, involuntary forced blood draws in DUI cases.

What do you think?


DUI Blood tests are always accurate. Aren’t they?

From the Denver Post:

Colorado to retest 1,700 blood samples from DUI cases after lab employee’s errors uncovered – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/popular/ci_20438710?source=pop_neighbors_colorado#ixzz1terc7VoS


Colorado lab tech blames boss for mistakes on DUI blood sample tests – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_20518200/colo-lab-tech-blames-boss-mistakes-dui-blood#most-popular#ixzz1tern5uVt