Oral argument in Beylund v. Levi set for Wednesday, April 20
The U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument on Wednesday to review a drunk driving case involving a motorist's challenge to North Dakota's implied consent law, which allows the state to impose criminal penalties upon a lawfully arrested driver who refuses to submit to a breath, blood or urine test to determine the presence of intoxicants. At issue in the case of Beylund v. Levi is whether the state's law places unconstitutional conditions on motorists forcing them to consent to warrantless searches.
The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has joined the case to argue that an earlier North Dakota Supreme Court decision, which rejected the challenge and upheld the implied consent law, was correct and should be affirmed. Implied consent is a legal tool utilized by all 50 states to obtain evidence of blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") levels of arrested motorists. It requires that individuals using the public roadways consent to a chemical test to determine if a person is intoxicated when a police officer has probable cause to believe that he or she is driving under the influence.
On August 10, 2013, Steve Michael Beylund was lawfully stopped and arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. He was uncooperative during the stop, refusing all field sobriety tests while claiming his "bad leg" prevented him from performing satisfactorily. After he agreed to take a breath test, he failed to provide an adequate breath sample. Beylund was subsequently arrested, transported to the hospital and informed that under North Dakota's implied consent law, criminal penalties would attach if he refused to consent to chemical testing. Hearing this, he agreed to take a blood test, which resulted in a BAC of 0.250g/100ml, three times the legal limit.
Following an administrative hearing before the Department of Transportation, Beylund's driver's license was suspended for two years. After his appeal for reconsideration failed to restore his license, Beylund appealed in state court, arguing that the state's criminal penalty for refusing a chemical test pursuant to its implied consent law was coercive and thus violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Both the North Dakota district court and the North Dakota Supreme Court rejected that claim and affirmed the decision to suspend his license.
When the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Beylund's appeal, CJLF joined the case.
In a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton argues that the license to operate a motor vehicle is a privilege granted by the state, conditioned upon the driver's agreement to consent to testing for the presence of intoxicants.
Each year, thousands of Americans suffer death, injury and destruction by drunk drivers. There is a strong interest by the state in protecting innocent people from bodily harm caused by the dangerous choice others make to drive under the influence. The implied consent laws in every state have been enacted to balance the safety of motorists who are obeying the law with the rights of those who are probably committing the crime of driving while intoxicated.
Criminalizing a lawfully arrested suspected drunk driver's refusal to submit to chemical testing does not unconstitutionally coerce the suspect's consent. The use of criminal or threatened criminal penalties to curb criminal behavior is constitutionally permitted.
"The public's interest in protecting innocent people and keeping intoxicated motorists off of the roadways is significant in comparison to the privacy interests of an arrested motorist who made the choice to drink and drive," says Foundation Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton.
A decision upholding Beylund's claim could invalidate implied consent laws in every state and make it much more difficult to protect the public from drunk drivers.
CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 743-3891. CJLF's brief in this case is available at: http://www.cjlf.org/program/briefs/BeylundS.pdf