Police possess a legal arsenal, including blood-alcohol testing, in their prosecution of suspected drunk drivers. In a recent decision, the State Supreme Court ruled that a driver's refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test could be used as evidence in a drunk driving trial.
In this case, prosecutors introduced evidence of the driver's blood test refusal. However, police did not conduct a warrantless search after his refusal or obtain any evidence of the driver's blood alcohol content level. The driver was not punished for simply refusing the blood test.
State law allows the use of this refusal as evidence in a prosecution along with testimony on the circumstances surrounding that refusal. The trial court ruled that admitting this evidence violated his Fourth Amendment rights protecting the driver from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The trial court relied on a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a criminal conviction for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test. The Court ruled that motorists did not provide implied consent for testing as a condition for driving that could also be grounds for a criminal prosecution.
The state Superior Court and Supreme Court reversed the trial court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that refusing this test is not grounds for a criminal prosecution. Police cannot threaten drivers with criminal prosecution to coerce them into agreeing to warrantless testing. Refusal, though, can have other consequences, such as being used as evidence in a trial.
The Court found that its ruling also complied with another US Supreme Court decision that unconscious DUI suspects cannot be deemed to have consented to a warrantless blood draw and that motorists have a Fourth Amendment right to refuse this testing. The Pennsylvania Court said that implied consent laws, as recognized by the US Supreme Court, give motorists an admittedly difficult choice. They can comply with the test or refuse and accept those consequences.
As these cases show, drivers face difficult and complicated decisions when dealing with police during a stop for suspected drunk driving or operating under the influence. They should contact an attorney as soon as possible to help assure that their rights are protected.