Warrantless blood alcohol tests face constitutional challenge

Every state has some form of implied consent law on the books. These are laws that say that anyone applying for and receiving a driver’s license agrees to submit to a blood alcohol content (BAC) test when requested by police.

In Tennessee, if an officer claims to have reasonable suspicion of driver impairment and asks for a test, refusing can result in some pretty serious consequences. Automatic suspension of driving privileges is the first thing a defendant should expect. But further penalties are possible.

Because of the nature of existing laws, police have had a great deal of authority to pursue having testing done, even without a warrant. They may press for blood, breath and/or urine tests under the aegis of the implied consent statutes — making refusal a risky proposition for the defendant.

Whether it’s constitutional for states to make it a crime for citizens to refuse warrantless BAC tests is a question due to be answered sometime in the next few months. The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted challenges to such laws from Minnesota and North Dakota. The claim being made is that imposing criminal penalties on individuals who refuse warrantless testing amounts to illegal search and seizure.

Attorneys experienced in defending against drunk driving charges in Tennessee know that the current standard police are allowed to use in making a stop and seeking to collect BAC evidence is based on probable cause. But the right to routinely impose BAC tests without a warrant was curbed somewhat by the Supreme Court in 2013 and its review of the Minnesota and North Dakota laws this year could lead to further restrictions.

For now, however, those facing charges need to deal with the law as it currently stands, and that makes consulting an attorney most important.

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