Municipal Liability, Publications

Supreme Court Holds Fourth Amendment Requires a Warrant for Blood Testing

June 24, 2016

The Supreme Court recently weighed in on state laws that require a motorist suspected of driving under the influence to submit to blood testing. Birchfield v. North Dakota (No. 14-1468, June 23, 2016)[1]. The holding of Birchfield has far reaching implications for the many states that require a person to submit to warrantless blood tests.

A warrantless blood test may now be subject to suppression under the Fourth Amendment in criminal matters. Moreover, a violation of the Supreme Court’s new precedent could subject a municipality and police officers to civil liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983.

The majority of states, including Illinois, have implied consent laws that automatically suspend a motorist’s driver’s license for refusing to undertake impairment testing. As Birchfield explained, automatic suspension laws remain valid.  However, several states have gone further and made it a crime to refuse impairment testing.

In Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrest for drunk driving but not warrantless blood tests. Specifically, the Court held that a blood test constitutes a “search” and is therefore governed by the Fourth Amendment. The Court was concerned that a “blood test also gives law enforcement a sample that can be preserved and from which it is possible to extract information beyond a sample BAC reading.” Therefore, a state cannot impose criminal sanctions for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test.

The Supreme Court left open the possibility of “exigent circumstances” to perform warrantless blood testing. Interestingly, the Supreme Court stated that while a motorist may not be criminally punished for refusing to submit to a blood test, “civil penalties and evidentiary consequences” are permissible.

Illinois law allows the police to require blood from a motorist. Specifically, Illinois’s implied consent law requires drivers to submit to “a chemical test or tests of blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining the content of alcohol, other drug or drugs, or intoxicating compound or compounds or any combination thereof in the person's blood.” 625 ILCS 5/11-501.1. However, because Illinois only imposes civil penalties for refusing to provide blood, Illinois law does not appear to run afoul of Birchfield.

For more information about this development, please contact Michael J. Lizzadro at Johnson & Bell, Ltd.


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