On April 20, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Bernard v. Minnesota, which was consolidated with Birchfield v. North Dakota and Beylund v. Levi.
In Bernard, William Robert Bernard, Jr., admitted he had been drinking, but he denied driving his truck and refused to perform a field sobriety test. He was arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired and taken to the police station, where he refused to consent to a chemical test in violation of Minnesota state law. Bernard was charged with two counts of first-degree test refusal pursuant to state law. In Birchfield, Danny Birchfield was arrested after failing field sobriety tests after he had driven his vehicle into a ditch, but he refused to consent to a chemical test, resulting in a misdemeanor charge. He moved to dismiss the charge and claimed that the state law in question violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. In Beylund, Steve Beylund consented to a blood alcohol to test to confirm he was driving under the influence, but only after being informed it was a criminal offense to refuse a blood alcohol test in North Dakota. The test confirmed he was over the legal limit, and Beylund was charged with driving under the influence.
The men in these cases challenged state statutes criminalizing refusal to submit to a chemical test, arguing among other things that the statutes violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Minnesota and the Supreme Court of North Dakota rejected their respective challenges. The question before the U.S. Supreme Court in these consolidated cases is whether, in the absence of a warrant, a state may make it a crime for a person to refuse to take a chemical test to detect the presence of alcohol in the person’s blood.
To discuss the case, we have Jonathan Ellis, who is an Associate at Latham & Watkins.