On June 23 the United States Supreme Court decided BIRCHFIELD v. NORTH DAKOTA, three consolidated cases addressing important substantive and procedural legal issues regarding driving under the influence (“DUI”) cases. In each case, the North Dakota motorist, lawfully arrested or under investigation for drunk driving, was convicted of a separate crime or otherwise received an enhanced criminal penalty for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test measuring the alcohol in their bloodstream.All three state court cases results depended upon the proposition that criminal laws ordinarily may not compel a motorist to give evidence against themselves in the form a blood sample or breath test unless a warrant authorizing such testing issued by a magistrate. The specific issue considered was how the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine applies to breath and blood tests incident to DUI arrests. The court ruled while compelled evidence from breath tests are constitutional based upon the limited inconvenience and invasion of privacy to the motorist, compelled blood tests are unconstitutional for those same reasons.In Pennsylvania, 75 Pa C.S.A. § 1547 of the motor vehicle laws addresses motorists’ civil license suspension consequences for refusing to submit to a DUI investigation breath or blood test. Depending on how many refusals the operator of the car has previously engaged, a driver’s license suspension based upon a breath or blood test refusal starts at one year and may escalate. The court ruled that these civil collateral consequence license suspension for refusing the test remains constitutional. “Our prior opinions have referred approvingly to the general concept of implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply.”The Birchfield case did not question the constitutionality of those civil collateral consequence refusal laws, and the Supreme Court limited its ruling stating that “nothing should be read to cast doubt on them.”In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream does not always constitute an exigency justifying the warrantless taking of a blood sample. That was the holding of Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U. S. ___, where the State of Missouri was seeking a per se rule that “whenever an officer has probable cause to believe an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol, exigent circumstances will necessarily exist because BAC evidence is inherently evanescent.” This case set the stage for Birchfield, where the individual defendant’s objected to being criminally penalized for not submitting to the warrantless blood draw or were criminally penalized when the warrantless blood draw produced evidence that was used against them in trial.
Major US Supreme Court DUI Decision and Pennsylvania Licensees
Pennsylvania’s DUI statute, 75 Pa.C.S.A.§3802D, provides for enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a breath or blood test stemming from a DUI investigation. DUI offenders with multiple prior DUI convictions faced enhanced license suspensions and jail sentences based upon the same refusal. In Birchfield, after reviewing all of the prior case law regarding car stops, privacy concerns, and search incident to arrest case law, the court held that motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense. Motorists can not be compelled criminally to give evidence against themselves without a warrant signed by an independent magistrate.
The court has finally drawn a constitutional line in the sand limiting the extent to which a state may utilize driving-on-our-roads informed consent laws to compel motorists to give evidence against themselves so the state may investigate and prosecute them for criminal conduct. In Pennsylvania, this will mean enhanced criminal penalties associated with refusing a blood test, not breathalyzer, in any criminal DUI prosecution may no longer be constitutionally permissible. Please call to discuss your DUI charge, your medical or professional license issue and potential discipline on your license from stemming from your first or subsequent DUI.