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Supreme Court to Rule on Criminal Penalties for Refusing a Warrantless BAC Test

Posted on in DUI

warrantless, Kane County DUI defense attorneyAs we have previously discussed on this blog, refusing to comply with a law enforcement’s officers request for a blood-alcohol content (BAC) test subsequent to a DUI arrest will result in administrative penalties for the arrested driver. Illinois law makes it very clear that these consequences are not criminal charges but are administrative in nature and affect only state-issued driving privileges. In 13 other states, however, including neighboring Indiana, a refusal to submit to BAC chemical test is a crime and may be prosecuted. While the laws may be well-intentioned—reducing drunk driving is a good thing—they are being challenged in a matter now before the United States Supreme Court. Specifically, the Court must decide if refusing a warrantless chemical test should be punishable with criminal consequences.

Search and Seizure Laws

In virtually every other situation that involves collecting evidence, law enforcement must obtain a warrant prior to conducting a lawful search. There are two general exceptions: searches conducted for safety of the responding officer and those done to preserve evidence may proceed without a warrant. The United States Supreme Court has even ruled that such protections apply to an arrested suspect’s cell phone, holding that warrantless searches of electronic devices violate the Fourth Amendment. In 2013, the Supreme Court clarified that a warrant was also needed to mandate blood testing for BAC in DUI cases, a ruling that has become the basis for the current case.

Criminal Penalties and Warrantless BAC Tests

The major question at issue concerns criminal penalties for refusing a BAC test. Legal experts, along with lower courts, have identified that such penalties are necessarily linked with whether warrantless searches are permitted. If law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant, do so, and the suspect still refuses, criminal penalties are much more understandable. If an officer proceeds without a warrant, the suspect’s rights are much less clear.

Breath Test Options?

Several justices of the Supreme Court have expressed skepticism over the states’ claims that getting a warrant for a BAC test is too burdensome. With available technology, many believe that a warrant, in most cases, could be available very quickly. The Supreme Court also seems hesitant to lift the warrant requirement for a blood test, given the invasive nature of such testing and vast amount of other information that can be taken from a suspect’s blood sample.

Justices appear more open to the idea of allowing breath tests to continue without a warrant, as they are much less invasive. The data gathered by a breath test is also more directly applicable to the DUI investigation. The question that remains to be answered in that scenario, however, is whether refusing a breath test should subject a person to additional criminal prosecution.

DUI Representation

Here in Illinois, refusing a BAC test is not a crime but it can cause you problems in addition to those created by charges of DUI. If you are facing drunk driving charges, contact an experienced Kane County DUI defense lawyer. Call 847-488-0889 to schedule your free consultation at the The Law Office of Brian J. Mirandola today.


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