The highest court in the land has made its voice heard on Minnesota’s warrantless BAC testing laws, upholding one section, while striking down the other.
On Thursday, June 23rd, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that officials in the state are indeed able to require those suspected of drunk driving to participate in breath tests without receiving prior approval through a warrant. However, when it comes to blood testing, officials must seek a warrant, as it’s considered more intrusive.
The court case emerged as three defendants in drunk driving cases from Minnesota and North Dakota sought to have their convictions overturned on the basis that their 4th amendment rights were violated – protections that guard against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Minnesota officials, meanwhile, had sought to uphold their current practices under a state law known as “implied consent,” meaning that if you’re suspected of driving drunk, then you automatically consent to any testing. The state is among a number of others that currently charge suspects for refusing to cooperate with BAC tests.
“Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. No warrant is needed in this situation,” stated the Supreme Court in its ruling, according to a report from MPR News.
In remarks as to why breath tests weren’t a violation of unreasonable searches and seizures, Justice Samuel Alito argued, “The air that humans exhale is not part of their bodies. Exhalation is a natural process—indeed, one that is necessary for life. Humans cannot hold their breath for more than a few minutes, and all the air that is breathed into a breath analyzing machine, including deep lung air, sooner or later would be exhaled even without the test.”
The latest ruling arrives after a Minnesota Appeals Court in March reached a similar finding to that of the Supreme Court concerning blood tests. At the time, Judge Jill Flaskamp Holbrooks in a filing referred to such testing as “serious intrusions into the human body.”