Are “Implied Consent” DUI Laws Unconstitutional?

by: Matt Newburg

01/09/2016 04:26 PM EST
  criminal law  

All 50 states currently have “implied consent” laws for drivers who are arrested on suspicion of drunken-driving and who are asked to submit to blood-alcohol testing. However, these implied consent laws are currently facing a constitutional challenge in the nation’s highest court.  Under state implied consent laws, when you get your driver’s license, it means you have also automatically given consent to blood-alcohol testing if you are ever suspected of DUI.  Meanwhile, the rules of criminal procedure and constitutional principles provide that there must be more than a “suspicion” to support a warrant. The question then becomes whether blood-alcohol testing is the same as a warrant, and if so, whether implied consent is constitutional.  

The case of Gaede v. Illinois (Docket No. 14-10423) will determine the constitutionality of these implied consent laws. The case is currently awaiting argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rules in Gaede’s favor, it could bring about some big changes for how DUIs are established and enforced.

The Gaede Case

Christopher Gaede sideswiped a parked car with his motorcycle and then fled the scene. After locating him, officers conducted three field sobriety tests, all of which Gaede failed. Based on this, Gaede was arrested and asked to submit to a blood-alcohol test. Gaede refused.

Pursuant to Illinois implied consent law, refusing a breathalyzer means the automatic 12-month suspension of driving privileges. It also means the refusal is admissible in the subsequent DUI case.  Gaede was ultimately convicted of DUI. The conviction was based, in part, on his refusal to submit to the breathalyzer.   On appeal, Gaede asserted a Fourth Amendment argument against the Illinois implied consent laws. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unlawful searches and seizures. Gaede claimed that officers should have to rely on a warrant to collect breath or blood evidence, and not an implied consent form possibly signed years ago when getting a driver’s license.

However, the State of Illinois argued that implied consent laws are constitutional. It asserted that Gaede’s case was similar to previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, particularly Missouri v. McNeely. In McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled that placing a limitation on warrantless blood testing would undermine states’ interests in preventing drunk driving, and that a 12-month suspension of driving privileges serves a “legitimate purpose” and is not unconstitutional.

An Illinois Appellate Court (Fourth District) upheld Gaede’s DUI conviction. The court rejected the argument that the implied consent statute is facially unconstitutional and unconstitutionally punishes individuals who assert their Fourth Amendment right to refuse to consent to chemical analysis. 

U.S. Supreme Court Arguments

On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Gaede has argued that warrantless blood testing is an unconstitutional invasion of an accused’s body. To support this claim, Gaede has relied on an Illinois state-court case that held the state cannot physically compel individuals to submit to chemical testing, even if urgent circumstances exist.

Basically, Gaede has claimed that DUIs are just like any other evidence collection scenario, and that police should be required to obtain a warrant before gathering biological evidence. Gaede has asserted the implied consent that’s given when applying for a driver’s license is insufficient in light of the freedom from unlawful searches and seizures.

When the Gaede case is argued later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will focus on two issues: 1) whether motorists have the Fourth Amendment right to refuse consent to warrantless breath analysis, and to demand compliance with the Warrant Clause, before the state invades their bodily integrity in search of incriminating evidence, and 2) if so, whether the state can punish motorists for asserting these Fourth Amendment rights. 

If the justices side with Gaede, implied consent laws across the country will likely be wiped off the books — and refusing a blood-alcohol test could become a valid option for drivers arrested on suspicion of DUI.