Constitutionality of breath-test refusals still a controversial topic

While Kansas’ alcohol-test refusal laws have been declared unconstitutional, they are still having an impact.

In February of this year the Kansas Supreme Court struck down a part of the state's controversial drunk driving laws. According to the Kansas City Star, the court ruled that people who refuse to submit to a blood or breath test for alcohol cannot be prosecuted for doing so. While that ruling helped uphold Kansans' rights not to be subject to unreasonable search or seizure, the ruling did not put the issue to rest entirely. The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to weigh in on the issue and, despite being declared unconstitutional, one recent case shows that Kansas' test-refusal law is still making itself felt in significant ways.

Unconstitutional law

Under the now-defunct law, Kansas had made it a criminal offense for drivers to refuse a blood or breath test for alcohol. The law made the offense either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on how many times the offense had taken place in the past. The state's Supreme Court, however, took exception to the law in a February ruling.

While drivers do give implied consent to such testing in Kansas when operating a motor vehicle, the court ruled that the law went one step too far. A driver can still withdraw his or her consent, the court ruled, and that same driver cannot be criminally charged for doing so. The court ruled that laying criminal charges on drivers who refused to submit to such tests was a violation of the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. As such, the law was struck down.

Issue still not settled

However, as the Topeka Capital-Journal recently reported, the issue of criminalizing breath and blood test refusals is far from settled. A number of other states have had similar laws and the issue will soon be decided upon by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision by the nation's top court could have an impact on future test-refusal laws in Kansas.

Furthermore, although the state Supreme Court did declare the law in question unconstitutional, that doesn't mean that evidence gathered under that law is also necessarily unconstitutional. In a recent case, the court ruled that a blood-alcohol test that was taken of a DUI suspect under the now-defunct law could still be used against him because the police officer in the case was judged to have acted in "good faith."

DUI charges

As the above article shows, drunk driving laws in Kansas are very much in flux, meaning that being charged with DUI can be both intimidating and confusing. Anybody facing such charges should seek legal help immediately. The consequences of a conviction can be severe, including jail time, fines, and a license suspension. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help defendants understand their legal options and help them uphold their constitutional rights.