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What the State v. Ryce Decision Means for People Caught Driving Intoxicated

Almost all states have implied consent laws requiring people suspected of driving while intoxicated to submit to various types of testing to determine if a person is drunk or high. However, a recent Kansas Supreme Court decision has possibly turned these implied consent laws on their head. Here's more information about the court's decision in this case and what it may mean for people who are arrested or charged with DWI.

The State v. Ryce Decision

This case involved a man who was stopped for DWI by a Kansas law-enforcement officer who observed the person driving erratically. The officer administered a field test, determined Ryce was intoxicated, and arrested him. At the jail, the officer notified the man of his rights and asked him to submit to chemical testing to establish his blood alcohol level. However, the man refused. As a result, he was charged with refusal to submit to testing as required by the state's implied-consent laws.

Ryce contested the charges on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to criminally prosecute him for refusing to submit to what amounted to a warrantless search of his body. Surprisingly, the district court agreed and dismissed the charge. The state appealed the court's decision, but the Kansas Supreme Court sided with the defendant.

Its reasoning was the Fourth Amendment protected U.S. citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of themselves and their property and that that includes bodily fluids and secretions like blood and urine. The court found the defendant was wrong to refuse to obey implied-consent laws but that it was unconstitutional for the state to criminally punish him for his refusal.

As a result of this decision, prosecutors can no longer charge defendants with a crime if they refuse to submit to chemical testing. For the moment, that penalty is off the table. However, defendants can still face administrative consequences for refusal, such as having their licenses suspended.

The U.S. Supreme Court Counter Decisions

Before you rejoice at being able to control who has access to your bodily functions, it's important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court also made a decision involving implied consent laws that may force the Kansas Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.

In Birchfield v. North Dakota—a case actually encompassing three different DUI arrests—the court ruled officers don't need to obtain a warrant to require people to undergo breathalyzer tests. Their reasoning for this ruling is that breath tests aren't as intrusive as other types of chemical testing, such as blood analysis. However, the court still found that law-enforcement officers have to obtain warrants from judges on duty before they can compel people to submit to blood tests and that it is unconstitutional to threaten to penalize people as a means of getting them to comply with the request.

While the Kansas Supreme Court ruling has set a new standard when it comes to implied consent laws in that state, the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court will likely be used as a rebuttal to people who challenge criminal charges related to refusal to submit to breathalyzer tests. Since the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, its decisions will have a strong influence on local court matters, which may mean you might still end up being held criminally liable for violating the state's implied-consent laws.

It's essential that you hire a criminal-defense attorney to help you deal with DWI charges if you're arrested for driving while intoxicated. The attorney can protect your rights and develop an effective strategy that may help you avoid many of the consequences associated with being convicted of DWI and implied-consent violations. For more information about this matter, contact a DWI lawyer.