Two of last week’s opinions from the North Carolina Supreme Court address significant legal issues arising in impaired driving cases. In State v. Godwin, the supreme court reversed the court of appeals, holding that the trial court was not required to explicitly recognize a law enforcement officer as an expert witness before the officer could testify to the results of a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. In State v. Romano, the supreme court upheld the court of appeals’ determination that the withdrawal of blood from an unconscious impaired driving defendant violated the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a state statute authorizing this practice. Continue reading
Tag Archives: implied consent
The U.S. Supreme Court waded into the murky waters of implied consent law this term in Birchfield v. North Dakota. The opinion it issued last week clarified important aspects of the relationship between chemical testing for impairment and the Fourth Amendment, but failed to distill a coherent theory of implied consent. Here’s what we know after Birchfield:
- Warrantless breath testing of impaired driving suspects is permissible under the Fourth Amendment as a search incident to arrest. A person who refuses to submit to such testing may be subjected to sanctions ranging from license revocation to criminal prosecution.
- Warrantless blood testing of impaired driving suspects is not permissible under the Fourth Amendment as a search incident to arrest. Thus, a warrant or a suspect’s consent is required to conduct such testing. A person who refuses to submit to such testing may not be criminally prosecuted for that refusal.
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in three cases involving the chemical testing of impaired drivers. The question before the court in each case is whether, in the absence of a warrant, a state may make it a crime for a person to refuse to take a chemical test to detect the presence of alcohol in the person’s blood. I’m eager to hear what the high court has to say about this issue and to learn whether it will impact North Carolina’s implied consent laws, which, like the laws in every other state, do provide for warrantless chemical testing, but which do not criminalize refusal to be tested. But we don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court’s opinion to see how our state’s implied consent laws are evolving in a post-Missouri v. McNeely world. The North Carolina Court of Appeals decided a significant case yesterday, ruling in State v. Romano, __ N.C. App. ___ (2016), that the warrantless withdrawal of blood from an unconscious impaired driving suspect violated the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a state statute that permits such actions.
In its seminal opinion establishing the State’s right to withdraw blood from a DWI suspect over his objection and without a warrant when there are exigent circumstances, the United States Supreme Court left a significant question unanswered. The court in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 747 (1966), noted that the petitioner “is not one of the few who on grounds of fear, concern for health, or religious scruple might prefer some other means of testing, such as the ‘Breathalyzer’ test petitioner refused. . . . We need not decide whether such wishes would have to be respected.” Id. at 771.
So how have courts in the ensuing four decades answered this question? Must an impaired driving suspect be offered the least intrusive type of chemical test available or a choice about the type of testing when he or she has a sincere objection to a particular test?
I almost missed this one. While I regularly monitor the published opinions of our state’s appellate courts, I generally skip the unpublished decisions. So I initially overlooked the court of appeals’ opinion in State v. Martinez, ___ S.E.2d ___ (N.C. App. Jan. 5, 2016) (first released as unpublished, but later published), which addresses a recurring question in DWI cases: Must a defendant who does not speak English be advised of statutory implied consent rights in a language that he or she understands?
Here I go again (perhaps on my own) with another update on the state of implied consent after Missouri v. McNeely, __ U.S. __, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013). These updates occur more often than teeth-cleanings and may be awaited with the same degree of anticipation. But given that there’s a split of authority developing between the states, and North Carolina courts have not yet weighed in, I think these are developments worth following.
I admit that I may have a problem. I am dedicated to (perhaps obsessed with) the pursuit of a legal theory that satisfactorily squares the doctrine of implied consent with the Fourth Amendment. A thousand Westlaw searches later, I have yet to find analysis such an analysis by a court. So I was a little surprised when the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit explained earlier this summer that the Supreme Court determined more than thirty years ago in South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U.S. 553 (1983), that implied consent testing carried out under threat of license revocation comported with the Fourth Amendment. Did I miss something?
Don’t call the School of Government next week. We’ll all be out. Next week is conference-time for many of the court officials we serve, and we will be traversing the state (driving the speed limit at all times, of course) to speak at various legal conferences. Case updates are a perennial staple of these conference agendas, so I’ve been reviewing last year’s cases with a particular focus on impaired driving. A number of opinions address issues that are frequently litigated in DWI cases, so I thought I’d share the highlights with you in a two-part post. This post reviews the past year’s jurisprudence on implied consent testing and compelled blood draws. Tomorrow’s post will review the recent case law on reasonable suspicion and probable cause for DWI. Continue reading →
In most DWI cases, the State obtains evidence of a defendant’s alcohol concentration from a breath-testing machine. In order for the results of such a breath test to be admissible at trial, the State must follow the procedures set forth in the implied consent statutes, G.S. 20-16.2 and G.S. 20-139.1. Those statutes require, among other things, that a suspect be advised of his right to refuse testing and the consequences of such a refusal and that he be afforded an opportunity to contact a witness to observe the testing. Less frequently, a law enforcement officer will request that a person charged with an implied consent offense such as impaired driving submit to a blood test. Like the breath test results, the analysis of the defendant’s blood sample obtained pursuant to such a request is admissible at trial only if the State follows the procedures set forth in the implied consent statutes. If the request for a blood test follows an earlier request for a breath test, then the officer must re-advise the suspect of his implied consent rights before asking for consent. None of these rules apply, however, when blood is withdrawn pursuant to a search warrant.
Prosecuting impaired drivers in Georgia just got a little bit harder. The Georgia Supreme Court held last week in Williams v. State, __ S.E.2d __ (Ga. 2015) that the mere fact that a DUI suspect agreed to allow officers to withdraw his blood–after being told that Georgia law required him to submit to testing and that his driver’s license would be revoked for a year if he refused–did not establish the sort of voluntary consent necessary to excuse the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Is this a watershed moment in implied consent law? Continue reading →