Florida Debates Constitutionality of Breathalyzer Test Law
On September 1, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments for and against a state law which, in effect, prosecutes people for refusing to take a breathalyzer test when pulled over for a DUI. According to National Public Radio, Florida is one of a dozen states with laws that go beyond license suspension.
Justices issued an order this past week to hear arguments on the case of William Williams of Volusia County. Mr. Williams was pulled over in October, 2013, and asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. He refused, and in doing so incurred a total of 5 citations.
The Refusal to Submit law states that the first time a breathalyzer test is refused, the person faces a one-year driver’s license suspension. The second time he or she refuses, that person will face an 18 month suspension, as well as a first degree misdemeanor.
Attorneys for Williams state that the law clearly violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches and seizures. In other words, the officer should be required to have a warrant. Previously, the 5th District Court of Appeal upheld the law.
Recently, constitutionality issues have been raised in both Florida and nationwide about implied consents laws. These laws basically state that driving is a privilege, not a right, and that by driving you are giving implied consent to a breathlyzer test or other form of sobriety testing.
In another case, Minnesota driver Todd Trahan was pulled over in October 2012 by a sheriff’s deputy for driving erratically. He smelled of alcohol, and reportedly had difficulty standing up. He didn’t even have a valid driver’s license due to a prior suspension for drunk driving.
Trahan refused a blood test, so was then charged under the state’s implied consent law. Trahan was given a five-year prison term for the refusal. Later, the conviction was overturned, stating that the law as applied to the case was unconstitutional. Indeed, Minnesota has also been a hotbed of debate lately.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology