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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

SCOTUS investigating penalties for blood alcohol test refusals

Washington motorists may be interested to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on April 20 against laws that make it a separate crime for drivers to refuse to take a blood alcohol test without getting a warrant first. Although Washington is not one of the 13 states that have such laws, all states will suspend licenses for failing to submit to such a test.

The two states that are defendants in this case argued that there would be more drunk driving fatalities if they could not punish those who refused to take blood alcohol tests. While the justices appeared to be sympathetic to this argument, it was wondered why getting a warrant prior to taking the blood alcohol test was so difficult. Most states have magistrates who have the authority to respond to search warrant requests 24 hours a day.

Further, most breath tests are actually performed at the police station and not during the traffic stop. If this is the case, it should be no problem to call the magistrate prior to administering the test. The court could potentially search for a compromise. For example, refusing to take a breath test without a warrant could lead to a separate criminal charge while refusing to take a more intrusive blood test without a warrant may not.

People suspected of drunk driving who are pulled over and is asked to take a breath test, can be subject to administrative sanctions if they refuse. If it is the first such refusal, their licenses could be suspended for 12 months. An attorney who has DUI defense experience can assist in both the criminal case and in the DMV hearing by arguing that the initial traffic stop was made without probable cause.

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