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U.S. Supreme Court ruling puts light on refusal of DUI blood test

The United States Supreme Court recently made a ruling in a case for which it heard oral arguments in April. The issues before the court were whether those suspected of DUI can be arrested for refusing to submit to a breath test or a blood test. The court decided that drivers could be arrested for refusing a breath test, but not for refusing a blood test. This ruling is a good time to remind Utah residents what their rights are in reference to these impairment tests.

The blood test is considered an invasive procedure, and, therefore, a person's Fourth Amendment rights are violated if a warrant is not obtained for the test if the driver does not consent to it. Fortunately, only 13 states currently allow for the arrest of a driver for refusing to submit to a breath or blood test, and Utah is not one of them. However, just because an individual will not be arrested for refusing a blood test, that does not mean that there are no consequences.

In many of the other states, including Utah, a refusal is considered a civil matter. There is often an automatic suspension of the person's driver's license when he or she refuses to provide a blood sample. Here in Utah, that suspension is for 18 months the first time, but increases to 24 months thereafter. Other civil penalties could also apply.

Therefore, even though it is the right of drivers here in Utah to refuse to submit to a blood test, it is important to understand that consequences will still apply -- there are just no criminal charges attached to the refusal. A driver could still be placed under arrest on suspicion of DUI. If a warrant is not secured for a blood test within a reasonable amount of time, officials would rely on other alleged evidence if it is decided that the case should proceed. The rights to counsel and to be presumed innocent unless proved guilty still apply as they would with any other criminal charges.

Source: USA Today, "Supreme Court divides over breath, blood tests for drunk drivers", Richard Wolf, June 23, 2016

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