The Champion

July 2016 , Page 47 

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DWI - Blood or Breath in Birchfield: The Supreme Court Draws a Critical Distinction

By Steven Oberman

A Summary of the Issues

On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court published a decision that affects those accused of impaired driving across the nation. This decision adds nuances to previous interpretations of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches. In Birchfield v. North Dakota,1 the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of “implied consent” laws and appropriate punishment for the violations — in particular, the criminal violations — of the same. As the Court outlined in its introduction to the case, states developed these implied consent laws to help enforce laws against driving while intoxicated:

Because the cooperation of the test subject is necessary when a breath test is administered and highly preferable when a blood sample is taken, the enactment of laws defining intoxication based on BAC made it necessary for States to find a way of securing such cooperation. So-called “implied consent” laws were enacted to achieve this resul

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