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Birchfield v. North Dakota


In this opinion, the Court consolidated three cases in which the defendants, Birchfield, Bernard, and Beylund were arrested on separate drunk-driving charges.

1. Birchfield was arrested by a state trooper and advised of his obligation under North Dakota law to undergo blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing. The trooper told Birchfield that if he refused to submit to a blood test, he could be charged with a separate criminal offense. After Birchfield refused to submit to a blood test, he was charged with violating the State refusal statute, a misdemeanor.

2. Bernard was arrested and transported to the police station. There, officers read him Minnesota’s implied consent advisory, which stated that it was a crime to refuse to submit to a breath test to determine his blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Bernard refused to take a breath test and was charged with a violating the State refusal statute. On appeal, Birchfield and Bernard argued the State refusal statues violated the Fourth Amendment.

3. Beylund was arrested and taken to a hospital. The officer read him North Dakota’s implied consent advisory, informing him that if he refused to submit to a blood test he could be charged with a separate crime under the State refusal statute. Under these circumstances, Beylund consented to have his blood drawn. The test revealed a BAC of more than three times the legal limit.

On appeal, Beylund argued that his consent to the blood test was coerced because the officer informed him that refusal to submit to the blood test could result in his being charged under the State refusal statute.


Whether motorists lawfully arrested for drunk driving may be convicted of a crime or otherwise penalized for refusing to take a warrantless test measuring the alcohol in their bloodstream.


Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests, and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, the court concluded that a breath test, but not a blood test may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. The court added that, as in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not required in this situation.


First, Birchfield was prosecuted for refusing a warrantless blood draw; therefore, the court held the search he refused could not be justified as a search incident to hisarrest, or on the basis of the implied consent. As a result, the court held Birchfield had been threatened with an unlawful search and reversed his conviction.

Second, Bernard was prosecuted for refusing a warrantless breath test. That test was a permissible search incident to Bernard’s arrest for drunk driving. Consequently, the Fourth Amendment did not require officers to obtain a warrant before demanding the test, and Bernard had no right to refuse it.

Finally, Beylund was not prosecuted for refusing a test. He submitted to a blood test only after the officer told him the law required his submission. The North Dakota Supreme Court held that Beylund’s consent was voluntary on the erroneous assumption that the State could lawfully compel both blood and breath tests. The Court remanded Beylund’s case to the state court to reevaluate the voluntariness of Beylund’s consent given the partial inaccuracy of the officer’s advisory to him.


579 U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016)

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