Supreme Court Changes Blood Test Laws

In Pennsylvania, drivers pulled over on suspicion of DUI are given a tough decision: submit to a blood test, or go to jail for refusal. It doesn’t matter if drivers had any drinks before they were pulled over. If a cop wants to test their blood, it’s a done deal. That level of invasion of privacy seemed unconstitutional since it was first implemented, but there was not much Pennsylvania citizens could do about it. Now, the Supreme Court has taken a stand against the state.

A new ruling dictates that police officers must obtain a warrant in order to take a blood test from anyone they pull over for driving under the influence. With that decision, hundreds of current blood samples are in question and could be thrown out. The ruling follows similar rulings in Minnesota and North Dakota, where using the threat of punishment to gain cooperation on a blood test was found unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania did not criminalize a blood test refusal. However, police officers did warn drivers that not giving their blood voluntarily could result in some pretty hefty consequences. For instance, if the driver is found guilty of a DUI after refusing to take a blood test, they will usually face the most severe punishment allowed: up to five years in prison.

State attorneys and the Department of Transportation are both making massive changes to their policies in order to adapt to the Supreme Court ruling. The DOT has changed what police officers say to drivers they have pulled over, removing all language that could be construed as a warning (or threat) of criminal punishment for refusing a blood test. The District Attorney is bracing for an onslaught of lawsuits and appeals from current defendants who are facing extended jail time because they refused a blood test.

Of course, this ruling won’t impact every county in Pennsylvania. About half of the jurisdictions use Breathalyzers instead of blood tests. In the same ruling that outlawed coercive blood tests also dictated that breath tests are perfectly legal, since they are much less invasive. So why do some areas still use blood tests? Testing a driver’s blood is usually more accurate than a Breathalyzer. In addition, it can show if drivers are on any drugs, legal or not, that could impact their driving.

This new ruling has drastic changes to how drunk drivers are prosecuted. Consider the following tiers of drunkenness and their punishments on the first offense:

  • For a blood alcohol content of 0.08 to 0.099: $300 fine and 6 months probation
  • For a BAC of 0.1 to 0.159: 1 year license suspension, up to 6 months in jail, fine ranging from $500 to $5,000
  • For a BAC of 0.16 or higher, or a controlled substance: 1 year license suspension, up to 6 months in jail, fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Drivers who refused a blood test but were found guilty of a DUI would automatically get the third tier punishment. Now, those drivers can only face the consequences associated with their level of drunkenness, though courts will likely still hand down the maximum fines and jail time in that tier.

With these new changes, it is vital to have an experienced attorney if you have been charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania, whether the charges are recent or not. Contact Steven E. Kellis today for a free initial consultation.