Supreme Court issues new ruling on warrantless breathalyzer test

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Minnesota DUI law that forces people suspected of driving under the influence to submit to blood tests without a warrant or risk potentially more severe penalties is not constitutional. They issued another ruling, however, that does allow law enforcement officers to administer a breathalyzer after a DUI arrest without a warrant.

Arrested for Drunk Driving

The ruling, which was a 5-3 split decision, has not only complicated DUI laws and driver’s ability to understand their rights following a DUI arrest, but it has also raised some privacy concerns by some who would argue that not requiring a warrant for a breathalyzer test may have eroded personal liberties all in the name of increased public safety.

How did the court make its decision?

The court justified their ruling arguing that while a blood test could be considered a substantial invasion of one’s privacy, the “impact of breath tests on privacy is slight, and the need for BAC testing is great.”

The decision issued was a 5-3 split with Justice Samuel Alito writing the opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Justice Samuel Alito’s main argument for the ruling was that “breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests. The use of a straw to drink beverages is a common practice and one to which few object. Humans have never been known to assert a possessory interest in or any emotional attachment to any of the air in their lungs,” he said. “The air that humans exhale is not part of their bodies. Exhalation is a natural process—indeed, one that is necessary for life. Humans cannot hold their breath for more than a few minutes, and all the air that is breathed into a breath analyzing machine, including deep lung air, sooner or later would be exhaled even without the test,” he wrote.

“We conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving,” He added, “As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation.”

Supreme Court ruling what does it mean for you?

The Supreme Court decision raises some interesting concerns for drivers. Protections once afforded which maintained that officers had to obtain a search warrant to obtain a driver’s breath have been eliminated. Although the court did add additional protections for drivers in regards to forced blood draws, it’s important to note that public opinion and that of the court seems to be eager to eliminate personal freedoms in the name of public safety.

It’s not hard to be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote:

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither. He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”

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Beth

Beth L. is a content developer for LeadRival, a cutting edge company that helps connect DUI lawyers with DUI clients. Beth L. writes about a variety of DUI topics to help drivers who have been arrested for DUI, getting them the legal help they need.