Springfield Criminal Defense Attorney Adam Woody was interviewed this week by the local ABC affiliate, KSPR33, regarding an important Supreme Court case, Birchfield v. North Dakota, which was handed down on June 23. To read the article, which includes several quotes from Adam on the case, click here. Essentially what the case does is it paves the way for states to enact criminal laws making refusing a breath test following a DWI arrest illegal. Birchfield included three consolidated cases from the states of North Dakota and Minnesota, both of which have criminal laws against refusing breath tests. The defendants in those cases argued that criminal laws against refusing breath and blood tests are Unconstitutional given the fact that people have Fourth Amendment rights to refuse the tests. The Supreme Court held that it is okay for states to have criminal penalties against refusing a breath test following a DWI arrest, but states cannot criminalize the refusal of blood tests. The Court determined that a breath test after a DWI arrest is what is called a “search incident to arrest”, which is an exception to the warrant requirement. Typically for any search, police must get a warrant. However, there are a few exceptions to that warrant requirement and search incident to an arrest is one of those exceptions. However, because blood tests implicate more invasive procedures, people can legally refuse blood tests.
With this ruling, undoubtedly Missouri and every other state will soon follow in criminalizing the refusal of breath tests. Those criminal laws may well reduce refusals, but the relation between those laws and the reduction of DWI cases overall seems tenuous at best. It seems we have moved on from our desire to reduce drunk driving and are now more focused on punishing those people as much as possible, who are often young drivers who have never been in trouble before. As for the results of these laws on the overall reduction of DWI’s, only time will tell.