Birchfield v. North Dakota

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: June 23, 2016
  • Case #: 14–1468, 14–1470, and 14–1507
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J, and KENNEDY, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which GINSBURG, J., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Fourth Amendment, “implied consent laws” that require breath tests are constitutional because they are “reasonable searches” incident to arrest, which do not require a warrant.

Each Petitioner was arrested for driving under the influence and then compelled to take either a blood sample or a breath test without first being served with a search warrant. In the first and second cases, Petitioners refused the search and were told that, under state law, consent was obligatory. Petitioner in the third case consented after being compelled. Each Petitioner argued that the criminalization of their refusal to submit to the search violated the Fourth Amendment because it was “unreasonable.” The Supreme Courts of Minnesota and North Dakota rejected this argument. Petitioners then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari and consolidated the cases. The Court held that a breath test, but not a blood test, could be given as a search incident to arrest for drunk driving. The Court first determined that the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine applied because each Petitioner was told that they were required to submit to the search after being placed under arrest. The Court next weighed the degree to which these searches intruded upon an individual’s privacy against the government’s legitimate interest in conducting those searches. The Court then determined that the breath tests were reasonable searches incident to arrest because they far less intrusive to an individual’s privacy than the blood tests and they served the legitimate interests of state law enforcement. REVERSED AND REMANDED; AFFIRMED; VACATED AND REMANDED.

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