Driving While Intoxicated/Driving Under the Influence – What Will the Supreme Court Decide?

Driving While Intoxicated or Driving Under the Influence (DWI) laws vary widely from state to state.  For example, within Virginia there is no distinction between DWI and DUI, but other states do draw a distinction.  Another example: Virginia requires an ignition interlock for any driver who receives a restricted license following any DWI conviction, but other states do not have such a law.

The Supreme Court May Rule that DWI Laws Need to Change

Some of these differences between states may have serious constitutional consequences. To that end, the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to review three cases from North Dakota and Minnesota (Birchfield v. North DakotaBernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. North Dakota) that may impact how DWI laws and prosecutions are enforced around the country.

The three cases pose a variety of issues.  They concern issues such as:

  • refusing mandatory breath tests,
  • civil punishments for refusal of tests, and
  • warrantless searches as far as breath or blood tests are concerned.

Depending how the Court decides these three cases, Virginia may see implications in how its laws are currently written or enforced.

How Will the Supreme Court Rule?

How the Court will rule will depend on the specifics of the appeals, but certainly the Court is also aware of the efforts taken by many groups to crackdown on DWIs.  There is no doubt that the Supreme Court will take into account these general factors, even though it will have to decide the case based on the constitutional issues.

Given the broader scope in which the Supreme Court will likely consider the DWI issues, it will be interesting to see how local issues will play into the decision.  The tragic death of Noah Leotta on December 3, 2015, who died in the course of performing his duties as a Maryland Police Officer due to what Maryland police believe was an alcohol-related accident, has caused attention to be paid in Maryland regarding the toughness of its DWI laws.

In contrast, the Supreme Court has also given those accused of DWI some limited but greater protection in recent years.  In the 2013 Missouri v. McNeely decision, the Supreme Court strongly suggested that police officers who have enough time to obtain a search warrant in drunk driving cases must do so before obtaining a blood test. But most state courts have generally interpreted that decision narrowly, giving officers broad authority to require suspected drivers to perform field sobriety tests and submit to blood or breath tests, without search warrants.

It will be even more interesting to see how the Supreme Court deals with its ruling in McNeely when deciding these new cases.  The Supreme Court could expand constitutional protections further by ruling that implied consent laws, which require people to blow into a breath machine or have their blood drawn, are unconstitutional.  However, there has been much litigation on this front over many years and the results have not been favorable to those suspected of driving drunk.  Additionally, if the Supreme Court requires a warrant to be issued for field sobriety tests and the like, that could have substantial implications for how police in Virginia, and everywhere else, conduct their investigations into DWI cases after pulling a suspect over.

While it’s impossible to predict what direction SCOTUS will head with these issues, one thing is for sure: these cases will be closely watched and heavily used if they come out in favor of the defendants in the cases set for argument.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC today.

Fairfax DUI Lawyers at Greenspun Shapiro PC

Have you been charged with a DWI in Fairfax or Northern Virginia? If so, it’s time to contact a trusted Fairfax DUI lawyer at Greenspun Shapiro PC. We are known for our vision, experience, and imagination with a track record of success and excellence when it comes to representing our criminal and traffic defense clients. You can count on one of our skilled Fairfax attorneys to aggressively defend your rights while helping you resolve your case. You can contact our Fairfax law office by calling (703) 352-0100.

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