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Challenges to alcohol breath tests reach the U.S. Supreme Court

Police departments and citizens in New Jersey can expect clarification about the legality of alcohol breath tests from the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is the practice in some states of charging people with a crime when they refuse to submit to deep-lung breath tests after an arrest for traffic violations even when authorities have not issued a search warrant.

A legal brief presented to the Supreme Court asserted that tens or even hundreds of thousands of people have had their Constitutional protection from unlawful search and seizure violated when authorities demand such tests without a warrant. In a previous case presented to the high court in 2013, the justices ruled that police could not force people to take blood tests for alleged drunk driving without a search warrant.

The lawyers representing the two breath test cases heading to the Supreme Court argue that refusing the tests should not be considered a crime when authorities are already supposed to obtain a search warrant to get a blood test. They say that legal precedents have also already been established that prevent police, except in limited circumstances, from searching a driver or vehicle without a search warrant even if the person is under arrest.

Because of the long-term consequences associated with a drunk driving conviction, a person arrested and charged with such a crime might desire legal representation. With help from an attorney, a person might be able to present a defense. An attorney could closely examine the circumstances of the traffic stop. If evidence points to issues like authorities unlawfully targeting the individual or performing a sobriety test incorrectly, an attorney could request that charges be dropped. An attorney might also negotiate for a lenient sentence or arrange for the person's license to be reinstated.

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