Supreme Court puts limits on Tennessee's DUI test refusal law

Tennessee will have to rethink its DUI laws following a Supreme Court ruling on warrantless blood draws.

The question of whether motorists can face criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood or breath alcohol test was recently ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court. As Bloomberg BNA reports, the country's top court ruled that if police want to carry out a blood test on a driver suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol then they need to obtain a warrant beforehand to do so. Interestingly, however, the court ruled that no such warrant is required when carrying out a breath test. The case is likely to have a significant impact on law enforcement in Tennessee, which is one of the few states that criminalizes the refusal to submit to a DUI test.

Criminalizing test refusals

Facing punishments for refusing to submit to a blood-alcohol test is nothing new. Most states will revoke or suspend a person's license if they refuse to submit to such a test. However, revoking or suspending a license is an administrative punishment and one that does not lead to a criminal record.

In recent years a number of states, including Tennessee, have tried to make refusing to submit to a blood-alcohol test a criminal offense as well. Even if police officers have no warrant for carrying out a blood-alcohol test, individuals in those states could still face a criminal charge for refusing to submit to such a test.

Top court delivers a mixed ruling

The Supreme Court dealt with the issue of refusing to submit to a blood-alcohol test in an interesting way. The court ruled that because blood tests are inherently invasive and require the state to store a biological sample from a person's body that they therefore require a warrant. In other words, laws that criminalize refusing to submit to a blood withdrawal are unconstitutional. However, the court also ruled that because breath tests are less intrusive they do not require a warrant, making the criminalization of refusing to submit to a breath test permissible.

As News Channel 9 reports, the case is likely to play a big role in how DUI laws are enforced in Tennessee. While it is too early to see how courts or lawmakers will deal with the fallout from the ruling, it seems likely that police will become more reliant on breath tests when pursuing DUI cases. That reliance on breath tests can itself be problematic since such tests have their own problems and may even overestimate an individual's blood-alcohol level.

Criminal law help

Anybody who has been charged with DUI needs to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. The consequences of a conviction can be severe and may lead to the loss of one's license, incarceration, and even a criminal record. An experienced defense attorney can help those facing such serious charges understand what their legal options are and how best to uphold their constitutional rights.