DUI laws in the State of Florida and across the country were shaken upon following the United State’s Supreme Court’s ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota. The issue that was presented was whether in the absence of a warrant, may a state statute criminalize an individual’s refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test.
In the State of Florida, refusal to submit to a breath, urine or blood test can be considered a criminal misdemeanor according to Florida Statute §316.1939. Pursuant to section 316.1939:
Any person who has refused to submit to a chemical or physical test of his or her breath, blood, or urine, as described in s. 316.1932, and whose driving privilege was previously suspended for a prior refusal to submit to a lawful test of his or her breath, urine, or blood, and:
(a) Who the arresting law enforcement officer had probable cause to believe was driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in this state while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, chemical substances, or controlled substances;
(b) Who was placed under lawful arrest for a violation of s. 316.193 unless such test was requested pursuant to s. 316.1932(1)(c);
(c) Who was informed that, if he or she refused to submit to such test, his or her privilege to operate a motor vehicle would be suspended for a period of 1 year or, in the case of a second or subsequent refusal, for a period of 18 months;
(d) Who was informed that a refusal to submit to a lawful test of his or her breath, urine, or blood, if his or her driving privilege has been previously suspended for a prior refusal to submit to a lawful test of his or her breath, urine, or blood, is a misdemeanor; and
(e) Who, after having been so informed, refused to submit to any such test when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer or correctional officer commits a misdemeanor of the first degree and is subject to punishment as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
The United States Supreme Court, in a 7-1 decision, held that in DUI cases, warrantless breath tests are permissible under the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement because they do not implicate significant privacy concerns. They involve minimal physical intrusion to capture something that is routinely exposed to the public, reveal a limited amount of information, and do not enhance any embarrassment beyond what the arrest itself causes. Blood tests, however, implicate privacy interests because they are much more physically invasive -- they require the piercing of the skin -- and they produce a sample that can be preserved and used to obtain further information beyond the subject’s blood alcohol level at the time of the test. The Court also determined that criminalizing refusal to submit to a breath test is designed to serve the government’s interest in preventing drunk driving, which is greater than merely keeping currently drunk drivers off the roads, and does so better than other alternatives. However, the same rationale did not apply to criminalizing refusal to submit to a blood test because of the greater degree of intrusion and the available alternative of the breath test.