In all 50 states, drivers are told that when they get behind the wheel of the car, they “impliedly” consent to have their breath tested for the presence of alcohol. Driving a car is a privilege and not a right, and drivers cannot legally refuse a test when they are on the road. States impose both civil penalties (such as loss of a license) and criminal penalties (such as fines, additional criminal charges, or criminal sentence enhancements) for refusing to take a test.
Now, Illinois’ implied consent law is being challenged in the Supreme Court. The Illinois law says that if a driver refuses a test, the test refusal may be used as evidence against that driver in criminal court. From this evidence, a jury or the court is allowed to infer that the driver was intoxicated. Illinois also enforces a civil penalty for test refusal, a one year summary suspension of a drivers’ license. One Illinois man who was punished under these laws is now fighting them, arguing that it criminalizes a constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.
The Facts of Illinois v. Gaede
Mr. Gaede was driving his motorcycle home after a visit with a group of friends. According to his attorneys, he was very careful about not driving under the influence due to what he called the “biker code,” and had only two beers on the night of the incident. He was not stopped for driving erratically. Instead, he was pulled over because he matched the description of a different driver who had committed a hit and run earlier in the evening. Mr. Gaede was polite and cooperative during the stop, but did not perform particularly well on a field sobriety test because he failed to follow some specific (and somewhat complex) instructions. Mr. Gaede was arrested but did not submit to a breath analysis, believing that it was his constitutional right to refuse despite being informed of the consequences of refusal.
Mr. Gaede’s Argument
Mr. Gaede and his lawyers believe that defendants should have some constitutional protection from warrantless searches, even in the context of driving. They rely on many different past Supreme Court decisions, including Missouri v. McNeely (2013) in which the court decided that warrantless blood tests performed on drivers are not always constitutional. As in McNeely, “in the context of a DUI investigation, no warrant exception categorically excuses compliance with the basic command of the Fourth Amendment.”
Mr. Gaede is asking the court two questions in this case: Do motorists have the Fourth Amendment right to refuse consent to a warrantless breath-analysis, and to demand compliance with the Warrant Clause, before the State invades their bodily integrity in search of incriminating evidence? If so, can the State punish motorists for asserting these Fourth Amendment rights?
The State of Illinois’ Argument
The state of Illinois argues that implied consent laws have consistently been upheld as constitutional, and that Mr. Gaede knew the consequences of refusing to test. They also argue that a driver who has been drinking has a blood alcohol level that is constantly falling and that the need to administer a breath test quickly creates an exigent (in other words, pressing) circumstance. In truly exigent circumstances, a warrant is not required under the law because there is not enough time to secure one.
If Mr. Gaede Wins, What Will Happen?
Like the decision in McNeely, the Gaede decision could have great impact on DUI cases all over the United States. What Mr. Gaede and his attorneys are asking for might be difficult to do, but is not completely unreasonable. Police officers may have to make an effort to secure a warrant if a driver refuses to take a warrantless breath test. If they cannot get a warrant in time, they may then be able to declare the situation truly “exigent” and perform a warrantless breath test. States may have to revise their laws to punish test refusal only where police officers have secured a warrant or have made a reasonable attempt to do so and received no timely response. Many years ago, this type of warrant requirement would have created serious obstacles to DUI investigation, but with modern technology warrants can be requested fairly quickly.
On the other hand, if Illinois wins the case, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to reinforce the implied consent doctrine and perhaps add further legitimacy to laws that are present throughout the United States.
Authored by Alexis Watts, LegalMatch Legal Writer