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In New York, as in many other states, a person who is pulled over under suspicion of driving while intoxicated and who refuses to submit to a breath or blood test is subject to punishment. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, a refusal can result in a license suspension or even revocation. However, this punishment is a civil penalty only and is separate and apart from any criminal charges that result from a DWI arrest.

In some other states, refusing a breath test is a criminal act. In theory, since a breath test is considered a search of a person, a warrant would be required. By making a refusal a crime, those states’ laws circumvent the need to obtain a warrant. However, that may not continue to be the case reports U.S. News & World Report. The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on a case that would decide whether law enforcement would be required to obtain a warrant before subjecting a suspected drunk driver to a breath test.

Attorneys for the defendant states of North Dakota and Minnesota argued that requiring a warrant places a huge burden on the authorities, especially in less populated rural areas. That argument was not especially well-received by some of the Justices.

One of the issues being argued is whether a breath test is as invasive as a blood test. The Supreme Court previously ruled that warrants are generally required before a blood test. Should the Court rule in favor of the plaintiff, non-criminal punishments such as New York’s license suspension for refusal may still be allowed. The Court is expected to rule in the near term and only time will tell how such a ruling will affect drivers in New York and throughout the country.

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