In a 6-1 ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that criminalizing the refusal of the blood-alcohol test during a traffic stop is unconstitutional. The court found that it violates the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting unreasonable search and seizures by the police during these traffic stops. The Court found that a person has a constitutional right to refuse such searches and not be held criminally liable for refusing the breathalyzer test. This decision could reverberate and cause sweeping reform to DUI laws across the country.
The United States Supreme decided this past week to hear cases stemming out of North Dakota and Minnesota concerning the constitutionality of criminalizing the refusal of breathalyzer tests. The legal issue in question concerns law enforcement’s potential infringement of the Fourth Amendment right to unreasonable search and seizure under the United States Constitution when police criminalize a suspect for refusing the breath test during a DUI stop. The Supreme Court has ruled in general that the police cannot search a driver or vehicle upon arrest without a warrant unless it is for their own personal safety or to preserve evidence. Challengers to this law look to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision holding that police could not conduct blood tests without a warrant.
This past week the New Jersey Supreme Court has reversed itself from its prior ruling imposing greater restrictions on law enforcement conducting searches of automobiles. In its 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court relaxed this prior precedent. Under the prior decision, authorities could conduct warrantless searches if “exigent circumstances” existed. An exigent circumstance is, in lawyer legalese, is an emergency or the need to act fast in order to preserve evidence. For example, if a police officer hears screaming like someone is in distress in home, the police officer on the street does not need to obtain a search warrant from a judge to enter the home; rather, the law provides that he can enter the home without the warrant due to the emergency, i.e. the woman screaming.