Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding implied consent laws and the ability of law enforcement to force a driver to submit to blood-alcohol content (BAC) testing. The issue is multifaceted, as with many subjects in the realm of criminal law, but the debate boiled down to two primary questions: Can police force a person to submit to BAC testing without a warrant when the person is arrested on suspicion of driving under influence ? If so, can that person be criminally prosecuted if he or she refuses a warrantless test? While the United States Supreme Court addressed these questions to a certain extent last year, a case in Illinois seems to have a found a loophole in the court’s ruling.
Birchfield v. North Dakota
Illinois—like every other state—maintains an implied consent law, which means that drivers who use the roads and highways in the state agree to submit to BAC testing if they are arrested on suspicion of DUI. Those who refuse are not subject to additional criminal penalties, but administrative penalties, including the suspension of driving privileges, do apply.
Last spring, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Birchfield v. North Dakota that BAC testing fell into two very distinct categories. Breath tests, commonly known as breathalyzers, can be ordered by police without a warrant, and a failure to comply is subject to additional criminal prosecution. Blood tests, the court held, are substantially more invasive. Therefore, law enforcement must obtain a warrant before a suspect can be forced to submit to blood testing. Only then can a refusal be formally prosecuted.
An Unresolved Question
In its Birchfield opinion, the court acknowledged that urine tests are possible in DUI cases but are not used as often as blood and breath tests. Because none of the cases that contributed to Birchfield pertained to urine tests, the court did not address such tests specifically. Depending on the outcome of a case in Stark County, Illinois, the court may need to reconsider the matter in the future.
The case in question involves a man who is accused of causing a deadly accident while driving under the influence of methamphetamines in November 2015. The driver was unconscious in the hospital following the accident when a urine sample was taken without a warrant. The man’s attorney filed a petition to suppress the results of the test based on a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Missouri v. McNeely in which the court held that a warrantless, nonconsensual blood test violated a suspect’s rights. Like Birchfield, however, McNeely did not address urine tests specifically.
Last week, a Stark County circuit court judge ruled that Illinois’ implied consent laws are still valid, and he refused to throw out the test results. The case is scheduled for trial in mid-July. Depending on the outcome of the trial, an appeal seems almost certain, leaving the matter of urine tests for higher courts to consider.
Know Your Rights
If you are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Illinois, refusing BAC tests may have consequences, but unless the police obtain a warrant, you cannot face additional criminal charges for the refusal. Contact an experienced Joliet DUI defense attorney to discuss your case and to get the help you need. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.