Warrantless DUI testing to get Supreme Court review

Tennessee law currently presumes that if you get arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and are asked by authorities to take one of various types of blood alcohol tests, you must comply. If you refuse, you could face serious consequences for violating the implied consent law. And, according to the statute, authorities are not required to get a warrant before asking for the tests.

This is something that may be subject to change in the not-too-distant future. The U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of considering whether such warrantless testing amounts to a violation of the constitutional protections against an illegal search and seizure.

While many legal observers would likely agree that such a question should seem to be a slam-dunk in favor of individuals facing DUI charges, it is unwise to jump to any conclusions. No one can say for sure how the high court might rule and it would be naïve to think that a change would not be met by an outcry of dissent from anti-drunk driving advocates.

The question before the court is whether authorities should be allowed to charge a person with a crime for refusing to submit to blood alcohol tests of any kind, whether it is a breath test, blood or urine test, if police don’t first obtain a warrant. Courts across the country are divided on the issue.

Just this week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that a Minnesota Appeals Court overturned the DUI conviction of a man who had refused to give a urine sample for warrantless testing. And a Florida paper reported that last month, Hawaii’s Supreme Court threw out results of an involuntary breath tests against a defendant.

The matter being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court consolidates three cases — two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota. What the court is apparently being asked to weigh is whether warrantless alcohol testing violates the Constitution or is so minimally intrusive that it should be permissible.

A ruling in favor of defendants could have sweeping implications for many cases now pending and in the future and so we will be watching closely to see what happens.

Source:, “U.S. Supreme Court considers legality of DUI breath tests,” Frank Fernandez, Dec. 27, 2015

Skip to content