The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in State v. David Lee Ryce that it was unconstitutional to criminally prosecute a person for refusing to submit to a blood or breath test in a driving under the influence (“DUI”) investigation. Specifically, in the 6-1 opinion, the court found that the Kansas law that made this refusal a misdemeanor or a felony was a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.
[T]he Kansas Supreme Court made it clear that a driver is allowed to withdraw consent without being penalized.
The opinion states that the government cannot punish a person for exercising their constitutional right to refuse a test. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires warrants to be issued on probable cause. The court found that the tests are considered a search under the Fourth Amendment and a person cannot be penalized for exercising their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Unless there is an exception available for the warrant requirement, police officers must seek a warrant for an alcohol test upon refusal.
Kansas has a very similar implied consent law to the majority of states across the United States, including Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, New York, and Washington. Under this type of law, anyone who operates a motor vehicle gives implied consent to submit to DUI testing. However, the Kansas Supreme Court made it clear that a driver is allowed to withdraw consent without being penalized. Specifically, the court explains, “Once a suspect withdraws consent, whether it is express consent or implied (under the statute), a search based on that consent cannot proceed.” (Emphasis added). Additionally, the court held that the state’s compelling interest to take drunk drivers off the road is not outweighed by the fundamental rights each person is entitled to under the Constitution.
In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Missouri v. McNeely.
Ryce is not the first time a court has heard the issue of a person refusing to consent to a DUI test and being forced to provide blood, urine, or blow in a breathalyzer. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the issue in Missouri v. McNeely. The Court heard oral arguments on whether police must get a warrant before forcing a drunk driver to have his blood drawn for a DUI test.
The case began in 2010, when Tyler McNeely was pulled over for speeding. McNeely failed four field sobriety tests but when asked to take a Breathalyzer test, he refused. The officer arrested McNeely and took him to the hospital. McNeely refused to have his blood drawn. Ignoring this refusal, the officer ordered a nurse to take the blood. McNeely’s blood alcohol level was above the legal limit, and he was charged with a DUI.
At trial, the court threw out the blood test because the officer obtained it without a warrant. The Supreme Court of Missouri unanimously agreed with the lower court. The court held that the officer who conducted the DUI investigation had every opportunity to get a warrant for the blood sample by a judge on call. There was no accident to investigate, nor were there injuries requiring medical attention to prevent the officer from requesting this warrant.
On appeal, The United States Supreme Court upheld the Supreme Court of Missouri’s decision. Traditionally, the United States Supreme Court has held that a search warrant is required when a government official intrudes into the body. The intrusion is classified as a search under the Fourth Amendment. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. These exceptions include a search incident to arrest, consent, plain view, and exigent circumstances. Emergencies are classified as exigent circumstances, but it was unclear on what classified as an emergency.
The United States Supreme Court found that the “natural metabolization of alcohol does not justify an automatic exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.”
The United States Supreme Court found that the “natural metabolization of alcohol does not justify an automatic exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.” Further, Justice Sotomayor wrote in the majority that the need for a warrant should be determined on a case-by-case basis, analyzing the totality of the circumstances.
Additionally, the majority held that there are many factors to consider in deciding whether a warrant is required. With the advancements in technology today, obtaining a warrant promptly is much easier than the past. Relying on Schmerber v. California, the Court revisited the holding that no warrant was required to take blood without consent after an accident where the people involved were injured. “The fact that alcohol levels diminish over time figured in the court’s analysis, as did the time it took to investigate at the scene of the accident and move the injured people to the hospital.”
The Court distinguished McNeely from Schmerber because there was no accident or injuries involved. The only factor was the metabolization of alcohol that occurs naturally in the body. Overall, the Court held that this factor alone was not enough to excuse the officer from obtaining a warrant.
This past December, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide the issue of whether it is a Fourth Amendment violation if states make it a crime for a person to refuse a warrantless blood-alcohol test.
This past December, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide the issue of whether it is a Fourth Amendment violation if states make it a crime for a person to refuse a warrantless blood-alcohol test. The three cases to be reviewed are Birchfield v. North Dakota, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beyland v. North Dakota. All three cases will be consolidated into one hearing.
Currently, thirteen states around the country have laws criminalizing the refusal of a DUI test. Birchfield, the lead appeal case, occurred in 2013. Birchfield failed a breath test and refused to submit to a blood test. Even though he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge, he reserved his right to appeal the violation of his Fourth Amendment.
These drunk-driving cases will be viewed as a sequel to Missouri v. McNeely. The defendants in the current case waiting to be heard feel review of this issue “[i]s especially acute because the question presented in this case is one of exceptional practical and doctrinal importance… [and these states’ laws] affect many thousands of people every year.” Allowing laws to criminalize a person for refusing to consent to a DUI test will give greater constitutional protected to a person’s pockets than the person’s body.
The Ryce ruling in Kansas will have a huge impact on prosecuting DUI offenders. It also did not provide a clear set of guidelines for police officers when pulling a person over for a DUI and the need for a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. We will have to wait for the United States Supreme Court to determine exactly what the standard is for when an officer needs to get a warrant to conduct a DUI test.