The United States Supreme Court struck down Minnesota’s DWI laws which makes it a crime to refuse to a warrantless search of a suspected drunk driver’s blood, but upheld the crime of refusing to submit to a warrantless breath test.
In Birchfield v. North Dakota, the United States Supreme Court considered three drunk driving cases—one from North Dakota involving a driver refusing to submit to a blood test, one from North Dakota where a driver submitted to a blood test after, but erroneously, that he could be criminally prosecuted for refusing the blood test, and the Minnesota case of Bernard where Mr. Bernard was criminally prosecuted for refusing to submit to a breath test.
The Court upheld Minnesota’s Test Refusal Statute declaring that the state can make refusal a crime because the State did not need a warrant for a sample of a suspected drunk driver’s breath. The Court adopted the logic of the Minnesota Supreme Court and ruled that a warrant is not required for a breath sample because it is a “search incident to arrest.”
The Supreme Court, however, ruled that if a suspected drunk driver is asked to take a blood test, a warrant is required because of the more intrusive nature of a blood test and a driver cannot be criminally prosecuted for refusing a warrantless blood test.
This case effects hundreds (if not thousands) of DWI cases that have been awaiting this decision from the United States Supreme Court. Drivers who have refused the breath test had been hoping for a different decision as they were hoping their cases would get thrown out as unconstitutional. Drivers who refused a blood test will now be able to argue that their cases should be dismissed as unconstitutional because the State could not demand a warrantless search of their blood pursuant to today’s case.