On June 23, 2016 in a case called Birchfield v. North Dakota the United States Supreme Court clarified an issue for which a lot of states including California and the Court itself had been grappling for some time.
The court held the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to lawful arrests for drunk driving, but not warrantless blood tests.
The case involved three separate defendants who had been arrested for drunk driving. Of note in the case was also the issue of implied consent laws. Many states including California have implemented implied consent laws to protect the public. Essentially, what they say is if you drive on the street you are impliedly consenting to us sticking a needle into your arm.
The Supreme Court in the case of one of the defendants, Birchfield, stated that since the lower court has affirmed the decision to suspend Birchfields license for two years under the wrong assumption that the officer’s reading of the states implied consent law made his consent voluntary, it reversed and remanded his case to the lower court for further consideration of whether Birchfield’s consent to the officer was in fact voluntarily given considering the officers reading of the implied consent law, which basically states by driving on our roads you have no choice but to let me stick the needle in your arm!
This is a huge victory for Criminal Defense lawyers who have been arguing for years that implied consent laws, including California’s, are not tantamount to Fourth Amendment consent.
It remains to be seen how this will affect California’s implied consent laws.
You can access the full text of the case here.