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U.S. Supreme Court to hear breathalyzer cases

In a decision that could impact the rights of drivers in New York and nationwide, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases involving whether states can charge suspected drunk drivers with a crime for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. The court announced its decision on Dec. 11.

The cases going before the high court revolve around drivers who faced criminal charges after they declined to submit to "deep-lung" breath tests, which measure a suspected drunk driver's blood alcohol content level, in Minnesota and North Dakota. Drivers can also be charged for refusing breathalyzer tests in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Other states, including California, have also considered enacting such a law.

Lawyers challenging the Minnesota law issued a court brief saying that it is possible that many thousands of people are charged with crimes for refusing breathalyzer tests each year in the U.S. and that the constitutional rights of those individuals are being violated in the process. However, the state successfully argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court that breathalyzer tests were only demanded after suspects had been placed under arrest. They further argued that warrants were issued for any defendants who were subjected to blood or urine tests.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that police must get a warrant before taking blood samples from suspected drunk drivers. Lawyers disputing the constitutionality of the Minnesota and North Dakota laws are using that ruling as the basis for their challenges.

New York residents charged with drunk driving could face harsh penalties, such as the loss of their driver's license. However, by seeking a criminal defense attorney, it might be possible to get DUI charges reduced or dismissed.

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