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Supreme Court ruling limits police warning in DUI cases

Pennsylvania drivers stopped on suspicion of drunk driving during the last decade have heard police tell them that they must submit to a blood test or face increased penalties if they are convicted of a DUI offense. This practice is now very likely to be modified after a recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

In cases arising in North Dakota and Minnesota, the Court ruled that a person facing a DUI charge could not be convicted of a crime for refusing a police demand for a blood test if the police did not have a warrant authorizing such a test. The court reversed convictions from both states, holding that the United States Constitution barred states from using criminal penalties to compel drivers to submit to blood tests. The court took steps to emphasize that its ruling did not implicate breath test refusals because breath tests were deemed less intrusive than blood tests.

Pennsylvania law does not make refusal to submit to a blood test a criminal act per se. However, the law provides for increased penalties for drivers who refuse to submit and are then convicted of drunk driving. Shortly after the court announced its ruling, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation revised the warning that police were authorized to give drivers facing a blood test.

The new warning eliminates all references to criminal penalties that may be imposed for refusing to submit to the test. Also, prosecutors across the state are attempting to estimate the impact of this ruling on how they try their cases.

No one who is facing drunk driving charges in Pennsylvania should assume that these cases will be affected by this ruling. The assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is still the best way of insuring an optimum result, whether it is a favorable plea agreement or an outright acquittal.

Source: Morning Call, "Supreme Court: Cops need warrant to seize blood in DUI cases," Riley Yates, July 18, 2016

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