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SCOTUS to Rule on Drunk Driving Tests

Supreme CourtOn December 11, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed to hear several cases that could change drunk driving investigations nationwide. These cases relate to whether or not a search warrant is necessary before forcing someone to take a breath or blood test to measure his breath or blood alcohol content (BAC). If SCOTUS rules that forced BAC testing without a search warrant is unconstitutional, the decision would force changes in Ohio law.

What can we expect from the Supreme Court ruling?

The SCOTUS ruled on a similar case, Missouri v. McNeely, in 2013. In its decision, the Court ruled that police should obtain a search warrant before BAC testing if there is enough time. However, it does allow police to conduct testing without a warrant under “exigent circumstances.” The expected decision would not amend that ruling but instead supplement it to outline what exactly constitutes “exigent circumstances,” when a search warrant should be required, and whether drivers can face criminal charges for refusing.

All Americans have the right to avoid unwarranted searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment except under specific conditions, known as exigent circumstances.

Missouri v. McNeely left the exigent circumstances in a drunk driving case open to interpretation. The ruling says that the natural metabolism of alcohol over time does not always amount to exigent circumstances, but officers should consider the necessity of a search warrant on a case-by-case basis.

What are the current Ohio laws for BAC testing?

Currently, police officers can force Ohio drivers arrested for drunk driving to provide a blood sample even if they refuse to submit to a breath test. This can occur if:

  • The police officer obtains a search warrant from a judge, or
  • If there are exigent circumstances and no time to get a warrant

Under Ohio law, exigent circumstances can include destruction of evidence, so in some cases a forced blood draw without a warrant may be legal if the officers cannot obtain the search warrant before the BAC level decreases.

Law enforcement officers are empowered to use any “reasonable means” to obtain the sample for testing and are protected from assault charges or other consequences of these actions.

Currently, Ohio drivers who refuse testing typically face criminal charges for doing so. If the Court rules that a warrant is needed in order to force testing, police would not be able to charge drivers with a crime for refusing testing unless they have a warrant.

In what ways would this ruling change how lawyers defend drunk driving cases?

Attorneys know that in order to have the charges dropped against a client, the key often lies in proving whether or not officers followed proper procedures during the traffic stop and arrest.

The arresting officer and others involved in the arrest and detainment of a driver must follow strict protocol, including:

  • Having probable cause for the stop
  • Following required procedures for determining possible intoxication
  • Properly calibrating breathalyzers and other testing tools
  • Conducting testing as required by the law
  • Informing the driver of all applicable rights under the law

When officers do not follow these procedures, the defense lawyer can advocate for the client by appealing the administrative license suspension (ALS) and by requesting the charges be lessened or dropped.

If the SCOTUS rules that a search warrant is required before forced BAC testing, this will give lawyers another issue to consider when building a defense for their clients. If officers did not obtain a search warrant properly or obtained it without probable cause, the chemical evidence officers collected may not be admissible. Without these BAC readings, it will be much harder to successfully prosecute the driver.

How could this ruling affect drivers?

The upcoming SCOTUS decision could prevent Ohio police from forcing drivers to undergo BAC testing without a warrant. The ruling could also alter Ohio’s implied consent laws, making it more advantageous to refuse testing until there is a search warrant issued.

Currently, Ohio’s implied consent law allows officers to immediately suspend a driver’s license and charge him with a misdemeanor if he refuses testing. If the Supreme Court rules that a search warrant is necessary to force BAC testing, it may also change or strike down the law that allows this type of penalty for refusal of testing.

At The Farrish Law Firm, L.P.A., we pride ourselves on protecting our clients’ rights to the full extent of the law. If you are facing charges for a drunk driving offense in Ohio, our Cincinnati DUI defense lawyers can help. Contact us today at 513-621-8700 to schedule an appointment.

Click here to read more about what happens if you refuse a blood alcohol test in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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