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Challenge to Florida’s DUI Breath Test May Be Moot After U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

| July 13, 2016

breathalizer tests DUI

Passed the Supreme Court test, too. (Terry Hamilton)

A U.S. Supreme Court decision might short-circuit a battle about the constitutionality of a Florida law that leads to criminal charges for some drunken-driving suspects who refuse to take breath tests.


The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled Sept. 1 to hear arguments in a Volusia County case challenging the law. But Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office filed a motion Monday contending that the arguments should be called off because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month in a Minnesota case.

The issue in both cases has been whether states can impose criminal penalties on suspected drunken drivers who refuse to take breath tests to measure the amount of alcohol in their systems. The plaintiffs in the cases have contended that such laws are unconstitutional unless police get warrants before requiring the breath tests.

But in a June 23 ruling, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court said the Minnesota law did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Having assessed the effect of BAC (blood alcohol concentration) tests on privacy interests and the need for such tests, we conclude that the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrests for drunk driving,” the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito said. “The impact of breath tests on privacy is slight, and the need for BAC testing is great.”

In the motion Monday filed in the Florida Supreme Court, Bondi’s office contended that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling “definitively resolved any questions presented” in the Volusia County case.

The Florida law can lead to misdemeanor charges for drivers who refuse to submit to breath tests if they also have had previous license suspensions for refusing to take such tests.

The Volusia County challenge was filed by William Williams, who was arrested in 2013 on suspicion of driving under the influence and refused to take a breath test. A brief filed by Williams’ attorneys said he was later found not guilty on the DUI charge but entered a plea on the issue of refusing to take the breath test. Another court document said Williams’ driving record showed that he had previously refused to submit to a breath test.

The Daytona Beach-based 5th District Court of Appeal last year upheld the constitutionality of the Florida law, prompting Williams to take the issue to the state Supreme Court. Justices decided in December to hear the case and later scheduled oral arguments for Sept. 1.

In a brief filed in February, Williams’ attorneys wrote that he was not presented with a warrant and that no “exigent circumstances existed” when police sought to impose the test.

“Starting from the premise a search is presumptively unconstitutional, absent a warrant or exigent circumstances, it follows naturally petitioner (Williams) cannot be convicted of a crime for refusing a breath test,” the brief said. “Petitioner did not consent to a search; there was no warrant and no record evidence of exigent circumstances. No other exception to the warrant requirement applies to a routine DUI investigation.”

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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8 Responses for “Challenge to Florida’s DUI Breath Test May Be Moot After U.S. Supreme Court Ruling”

  1. Anonymous says:

    A warrant should be required for one to be requiired to take a breath test. The system is flawed just as was shown when DHSMV was suspending drivers licenses before people were convicted. When are we going to hear more about that issues that may cost DHSMV millions in reimbursements?

  2. Outsider says:

    I believe by signing your driver’s license you are agreeing that driving is a privilege and you will take a breathalyzer test when asked by law enforcement. If you don’t want to take one then don’t get a driver’s license.

  3. Jon Hardison says:

    I’ve never thought of this as a 4th amendment issue. Not ever. It seems almost inevitable that it would fail.
    But a 5th Amendment issue? Yeah. For sure.

  4. Darby says:

    When are they going to have a breathalyzer that measures the body for drug intoxification ?

  5. jadobi says:

    Anonymous: One’s ability to drive is a privilege not a right. Part of the privilege is to abide by certain rules set forth by the DHSMV, which is referred to as Implied Consent. By having a driver’s license, you are consenting law enforcement to seek a breath (blood or urine on occasion) to determine its alcohol content. Failure to comply with DHSMV rules can result in a loss of your driving privilege regardless of the outcome in a criminal case. There is one other option: surrender your license catch a taxi, bus or bum rides.

  6. Jon Hardison says:

    Outsider: Yes, you do. Just not sure of the legalities of asking someone to surrender their right not to incriminate themselves, let alone charging someone with a crime when they choose to make use of that right. All that said, it would be within the State’s right to revoke “privileges” if you chose not to comply but making refusal a crime would seem to be a clear violation of the constitution.
    (No. I still really don’t understand how this is a 4th amendment issue. I mean, I get it. I just don’t see how one could successfully prove that an officer had no grounds to issue the test.)

  7. Frank Adams says:

    In Tennessee, they can forcibly take a warrantless blood sample. Tenbessee also has a “drunk driving by allegiance” law, which means that if you give your car keys to someone to drive you home and they are over the BAC limit, you are charged also.The Bonnaroo Festival is prime territory for this.

  8. Bunnell says:

    Rulings of the Supreme Court no longer matter States counties are taking the Law into their own hands look at the federal law then look at the states with legal cannabis by the way free cannabis in Florida Legal cannabis for Florida recreational cannabis for Florida and remove Rick Scott failure for Florida

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