Supreme Court to Review Criminalization of Chemical Test Refusal


Just last week, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a decision that decriminalized chemical test refusals in DUI cases. Prior to the decision, it was a petty misdemeanor to refuse a chemical test after a DUI arrest punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The Hawaii Supreme Court reasoned that criminalizing a chemical test refusal violated the 4th Amendment because we have the right against warrantless searches by law enforcement and the government cannot punish us for essentially invoking our 4th Amendment right. Furthermore, any consent to search (which is what a chemical test is; a search for alcohol in your breath or blood) cannot be voluntary if our only options are giving up a constitutional right or be punished.

Cases similar to the one just decided in Hawaii are popping up all over the country. This has prompted the United States Supreme Court to agree to hear similar cases coming out of North Dakota and Minnesota.

The issue that the court addressing: Whether a state can make it a crime to refuse a chemical test following a DUI arrest.

Currently, thirteen states make it a crime to refuse blood alcohol tests: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. California, Mississippi, Missouri and Montana have considered similar laws.

At the state Supreme Court level, both Minnesota and North Dakota upheld the laws which make it a crime to refuse a chemical test claiming that they are reasonable tools for discouraging drunk driving.

Let’s hope that the United States Supreme Court take a cue from Hawaii’s Supreme Court. I would like to reduce the number of drunk drivers on our roads just as much as anyone. I don’t, however, agree with diminishing constitutional rights to do it.

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