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More Localities Adjust To Birchfield Ruling

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Mar 16, 2017 | 0 Comments

Law enforcement agencies around the country are still adjusting to the Supreme Court's decision in a trio of cases commonly referred to as Birchfield v. North Dakota. The cases dealt with the issue of whether or not police officers needed to get a warrant in order to get a breath or blood sample from a suspected drunk driver.

The court ultimately decided that a breath test could be administered without first obtaining warrant, likening it to a search incident to arrest. However, the court distinguished blood tests as being much more invasive. Because of this, the court decided that a warrant would generally be needed in order for law enforcement to get a blood sample from a person who was suspected of driving under the influence. The court also held that a person could not be criminally punished under the implied consent laws for refusing to take a blood test.

After a case is handed down that has a profound effect on policy, it often takes time for the states to figure out how to implement the new ruling.

One county that is changing its long-standing policy is Berks County, Pennsylvania. Prior to the Birchfield ruling, the county had primarily used blood tests to determine if a suspected was intoxicated. Since continuing this practice would require officers to get a warrant every time, the county is changing tactics and starting to use breath tests instead. According to the local newspaper, the Reading Eagle, other counties in Pennsylvania are also planning on making the transition from blood test to breath test.

Another county in Pennsylvania, York County, has also adjusted its rules based on the ruling in Birchfield. Prior this case being handed down, a DUI suspect could receive additional criminal penalties for refusing to take a warrantless blood test. This is no longer the case. Instead, according to the York Daily Record, police will first obtain a warrant to get a blood sample.

If a suspect doesn't comply withe the warrant, that person could be charged with obstructing the administration of the law. This charge would be in addition to being charged with "the most serious DUI offense, which is the equivalent to having a blood alcohol content that's at least two times the legal limit." However, according to the Chief Deputy Prosecutor, most people do comply with warrants. Defense attorneys in the county are already contesting this new policy, with one filing a motion "arguing that it's a violation of the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions for police to get a warrant for blood, and to threaten people with criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with one."

Several state legislatures, including those in Virginia and North Dakota, are working out how to change their state's laws so as to comply with the court's ruling in Birchfield.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI, please do not hesitate contact attorney Aaron Wolff today.

To learn more about what states are doing after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota, check out this article:

From Opinion to Reality: Translating Birchfield v. North Dakota Into The Real World

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 18 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.


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