Virginia's DUI blood-test refusal laws are unenforceable

Virginia's blood test-refusal laws are unconstitutional following a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Virginia's laws make it a crime for people who have a previous DUI offense to refuse to submit to a blood withdrawal test if suspected of a repeat offense. Those laws, however, are now likely unenforceable after a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year ruled that warrantless blood tests for alcohol are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to the Lynchburg News & Advance. The ruling, while not prohibiting all warrantless tests for alcohol, will mean that Virginia's lawmakers will have to rewrite a section of the state code dealing with DUI penalties. It will also mean a change in how police enforce DUI laws in the state.

The Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court ruling concerned breath and blood-test refusal laws in Minnesota and North Dakota. Those laws had allowed police to charge drivers with a criminal offense if those drivers refused to submit to a blood or breath test, even if police in such cases did not have a warrant for those tests. Those laws were controversial partly because previous test-refusal laws had previously usually imposed an administrative penalty, such as a license suspension, and not a criminal one.

As CBS News reports, the nation's top court ruled that criminalizing the refusal to submit to a blood withdrawal is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The court, however, did allow that breath tests without a warrant were permissible. The reason for the discrepancy was that, in the court's opinion, a blood withdrawal is inherently more intrusive than a breath test and also requires that the state store a biological sample of its citizens (i.e., their blood).

What the ruling means for Virginia

Because Virginia has blood test-refusal laws that are similar to those that were deemed unconstitutional, that means that state lawmakers will likely have to revisit sections of the state code that are now no longer enforceable.

It will also likely mean changes in how police enforce current DUI laws. Analysts expect that police will likely become more reliant on breath tests, since such tests do not require a warrant. However, it is important to point out the ruling does not ban blood tests outright, but merely requires that police obtain a warrant before administering one. Blood tests can still be administered in the state and police will continue to use them, especially in cases where they suspect drugs may also be involved.

Criminal defense attorneys

While this Supreme Court case is, in a limited way, a win for civil liberties, it still shows that police and prosecutors have a great deal of power when cracking down on drivers suspected of being impaired. It is also important for any driver who has been charged with a DUI-related offense to remember that no test, whether a blood or breath test, is perfect. A criminal defense attorney can help those who are facing criminal penalties understand what rights they have and how best to respond to the charges against them.

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