Birchfield v. North Dakota, SCOTUS No. 14–1468. Argued April 20, 2016—Decided June 23, 2016. Episode 186 (Duration 8:34).
May the State criminalize the failure to comply with implied consent laws?
There were actually 3 consolidated cases each of them turning on whether or not the state could criminalize the failure to comply with implied consent laws.
Two defendants were threatened with prosecution for failure to give blood; one defendant was charged for not blowing.
Thus, success for all three petitioners depended on the proposition that the criminal law ordinarily may not compel a motorist to submit to the taking of a blood sample or to a breath test unless a warrant authorizing such testing is issued by a magistrate.
If, on the other hand, such warrantless searches comport with the Fourth Amendment, it follows that a State may criminalize the refusal to comply with a demand to submit to the required testing, just as a State may make it a crime for a person to obstruct the execution of a valid search warrant.
SCOTUS, then had to determine if the searches demanded in these cases were consistent with the Fourth Amendment. This is so because when a law enforcement officer claims authority to search a home under a warrant, he announces in effect that the occupant has no right to resist the search.
If such warrantless searches are constitutional, there is no obstacle under federal law to the admission of the results that they yield in either a criminal prosecution or a civil or administrative proceeding.
Analysis – Search Incident To Arrest Doctrine
The court applied the search incident to arrest doctrine and noted it is a categorical rule. Since breath tests do not “implicate significant privacy concerns”, (no more intrusion than blowing up a party balloon). Blood tests are a different matter.
Yes, McNeely distinguished between “easily disposable evidence” over “which the suspect has control” and evidence, like blood alcohol evidence, that is lost through a natural process “in a gradual and relatively predictable manner.”
But McNeely concerned only one exception to the usual warrant requirement, the exception for exigent circumstances, that exception has always been understood to involve an evaluation of the particular facts of each case.
Here, by contrast, the search-incident-to-arrest exception is duly at play.
Having assessed the effect of BAC tests on privacy interests and the need for such tests, the Court concluded 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.
Blood tests are significantly more intrusive, and their reasonableness must be judged in light of the availability of the less invasive alternative of a breath test.
Thus, the police generally will need a warrant to get blood from a driver. The court said there must be a limit to the consequences to which motorists may be deemed to have consented by virtue of a decision to drive on public roads.
Holding: Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, the court said that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation.