Kansas Supreme Court Rules DUI Tests Unconstitutional

U.S. Supreme Court will consider similar cases, but will the Kansas decision affect Florida?

Isn’t a person who is suspected of drunk driving entitled to the same rights related to police searches as anyone else? In many states, the answer is NO.

Ordinarily, the police need a warrant in order to conduct a search, but not during a DUI stop. The concept of “implied consent” allows the police to cross that line and conduct a warrantless search, including a breath or blood test of a DUI suspect to determine if the driver is impaired. Refuse the test and your license is suspended. No exceptions.

Thirteen states make it a crime to refuse a DUI test.

Kansas Draws the Line

The State of Kansas drew a firm line on Feb. 26, 2016, when the Kansas Supreme Court, in a 6-1 opinion authored by the Hon. Justice Marla J. Luckert, declared that mandatory DUI tests are “facially unconstitutional,” meaning unconstitutional in all circumstances, not just in the particular case of State of Kansas v. Darwin Estol Wycoff.

In Wycoff, the Kansas Supreme Court cited both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Section 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights, concluding: “An individual has a right … to withdraw consent to a search. … Punishing an individual for exercising that right with criminal penalties, as the State has chosen to do … is facially unconstitutional.”

Wycoff was arrested for DUI and other related charges in December 2012 in Salina, Kansas. He refused to submit to a field sobriety test and also refused a DUI breath test after he was transported to jail. He was charged with DUI, refusing to submit to an evidentiary test as mandated under Kansas law (K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 8-1025), and other offenses.

Wycoff moved to suppress the evidence, claiming § 8-1025 was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. After rejecting most of Wycoff’s claims, a district court concluded that § 8-1025, which criminalized his test refusal, imposed an unconstitutional condition on his privilege to drive.

The State appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court after dropping the other charges. But the Supreme Court sided with the Constitution and Wycoff was acquitted.

DUI tests, the Kansas Supreme Court concluded, are searches.

A search is unreasonable if it is conducted without a warrant and any evidence gathered in such a search must be excluded. No longer will a person be punished in Kansas for exercising his or her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when suspected of DUI. Furthermore, implied consent is not irrevocable, the Court decreed. In addition, the Court maintained that the State’s interest in battling drunk driving does not trump the Bill of Rights.

U.S. Supreme Court Will Have the Final Word

Although the Wycoff decision only applies to Kansas, it may have far-reaching implications. Kansas may appeal the state Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already agreed to decide whether a blood or breath test for drunk driving can be conducted without a search warrant and whether, if there is no warrant, a person can be charged with a crime for refusing to submit to a DUI test.

The U.S. Supreme Court indicated in December 2015 that it would rule before the end of its current session on three cases involving DUI tests, two from North Dakota (Birchfield v. North Dakota and Beylund v. Levy) and one from Minnesota (Bernard v. Minnesota), that involve the legality of DUI tests. The cases differ in that in one, a person declined a DUI blood test, and in another, a person refused to submit to a DUI breath test.

In the third case, a person was convicted of DUI after refusing field sobriety testing before being taken to a hospital for a blood test against his wishes. The U.S. Supreme Court will be reviewing that person’s punishment for refusing the DUI tests — a two-year driver’s license suspension — instead of the jail time and fine he received for the DUI conviction, according the U.S. Supreme Court blog.

The three cases are scheduled to be consolidated and heard together in a one-hour argument, but as of Feb. 29, 2016, they had not been placed on the court docket. The Kansas prosecutor who initially prosecuted Wycoff indicated in a news report that he hoped Wycoff could be added to the existing three cases that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court, although that has not yet occurred. The Supreme Court’s final decision will apply nationwide.

Opponents are lined up for this battle, with prosecutors and anti-drunk driving advocates such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on one side and criminal defense attorneys, civil libertarians and citizens rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the other side. A final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court may not come until sometime in mid-2016.

Impact of Wycoff in Florida

The issues raised by Wycoff and the DUI test refusal cases in North Dakota and Minnesota may have an impact in Florida, although much hinges on the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in the North Dakota and Minnesota cases.

Implied Consent in Florida

A driver may refuse to submit to a chemical test for alcohol or drugs, but under Florida’s “implied consent” law (Florida Statutes, Chapter 316, § 316.1932), a DUI test refusal results in an automatic driver’s license suspension.

“Implied consent” means that when a person obtains a driver’s license, he or she gives consent to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample when properly requested by a law enforcement officer. Refusal of a DUI test results in an automatic driver’s license suspension.

In Florida, the suspension is one year for a first DUI involving a refusal to submit to testing. The administrative suspension can increase to 18 months for a second or subsequent refusal to submit to testing.

Clearly, Florida’s law is quite similar to the one that was struck down last week in Kansas and the laws that are being challenged in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Attorney for DUI Tests and Implied Consent in West Palm Beach, Florida

The DUI and criminal defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A., in West Palm Beach, FL, represent clients throughout Broward County and the surrounding areas. Our experienced lawyers have often represented clients who were charged with refusal to undergo a DUI test or a violation of Florida’s implied consent law. We closely monitor the evolving DUI laws in Florida and across the country and we believe the recent Kansas ruling may have a nationwide impact.

If you were arrested for DUI or charged with refusal to submit to a DUI test, contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. today to schedule a free, confidential appointment with one of our attorneys. Your driving privileges and your freedom deserve qualified, competent legal representation. Call us in West Palm Beach today at (561) 515-5834.