The Nevada Supreme Court recently issued yet another important decision regarding the validity of implied consent laws. These measures, which allow cops to force motorists to submit to chemical testing to determine alcohol content, or, in Minnesota, face serious punishment for refusing, have come under fire in the last few years, with several states declaring aspects of the laws unconstitutional.
Joining the growing number of state supreme courts to express concern about these laws, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the state’s implied consent law is unconstitutional. The justices wrote that the implied consent law is problematic because it assumes that all drivers in Nevada have consented to testing, something that has never been demonstrated. Additionally, motorists in Nevada are never given the option to revoke or modify this consent.
The case at issue involved a man, Michael Byars, who had been stopped by officers who suspected him of operating his vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance. The officer quickly detected the smell of marijuana after approaching Byars’ vehicle and ended up arresting him, eventually requiring him to provide a sample of blood to be tested to determine his level of impairment after Byars refused to voluntarily submit to such a test. The test happened without a valid warrant, something that is authorized by the Nevada implied consent law.
According to the Nevada Supreme Court, this warrantless blood draw is in clear violation of the constitution because of the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unauthorized search and seizure. The Court felt that the existing law put in place procedures that eroded the foundations of the Fourth Amendment, an important protection that needed to be reasserted.
The Nevada Supreme Court went on to note that in other states with implied consent laws, drivers are given the choice to refuse to submit to a chemical test. This refusal usually results in the loss of driving privileges or payment of a fine, but it does permit some degree of choice. In Nevada, no such choice exists. Drivers are simply required to submit to a test to determine their level of impairment when instructed to by officers, warrant or no.
Experts say the ruling will lead to big changes in Nevada. Starting now, drivers will be able to simply tell an officer “No.” This means that police officers will have to start securing warrants for those cases where they suspect impaired driving or get truly voluntary consent from the driver.
Source: “Nevada high court strikes DWI implied consent law,” by William Helbling, published at Jurist.org.