Birchfield v. North Dakota

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: December 11, 2015
  • Case #: 14-1468
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 858 N.W.2d 302 (N.D., 2015)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether, without a warrant, a State can make an individual’s refusal to take a chemical test to check for intoxicants a criminal offense?

Petitioner was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). A preliminary breath test suggested Petitioner was intoxicated but Petitioner refused to consent to a corroborating blood test. Petitioner was charged with refusal to submit to chemical testing under state law, but was not charged with DUII. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that requiring motorists, arrested for DUII, to submit to chemical testing does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Petitioner relies on established law that warrantless searches are per se unreasonable and argues that criminalizing refusals to submit to warrantless chemical testing is contrary to the holding of Missouri v. McNeely, where the Court ruled that the natural metabolism of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream does not constitute a per se exigent circumstance which justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. According to Petitioner, courts should examine the totality of the circumstances of each stop to determine whether exigency, or another exception to the warrant requirement, justifies the search. Furthermore, citing Camara v. Mun. Court of City & Cnty. of San Francisco, Petitioner argues that since individuals have a constitutional right to be free from warrantless governmental intrusions, it is unconstitutional to criminalize refusing to consent to a warrantless search. Finally, Petitioner argues that the state’s implied consent law is unconstitutional because it conditions receiving a driver’s license on waiving the right to refuse to consent to a warrantless search.

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