Breathalyzer Vs Blood Draw: The Supreme Court Makes Its Ruling

supreme court ruling breathalyzerPolice take samples of breath to determine how drunk someone is while driving, but have you ever wondered how invasive a breathalyzer test really is? Is it something you’d find embarrassing or painful?

Most people would probably say no, but just like everything in life, there are opponents to the act of submitting a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) via breathalyzer. After several states made it a crime to refuse, a case to determine an individual’s right to that refusal went all the way to the Supreme Court. Three drivers from North Dakota and Minnesota, states where you can receive a criminal charge if you refuse the breathalyzer, launched the case because they felt submitting a blood or breath test violates their Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless searches.

What the Supreme Court ultimately decided was that there was a fine line between submitting a breath sample and submitting a blood sample. A blood sample, involving the piercing of the skin, is much more painful, intrusive, and potentially embarrassing than a breath test. One judge stated that a breathalyzer was “no more demanding than blowing up a party balloon.”

Long court decision short, that means that suspected drunk drivers can still be arrested and criminally charged for refusing to submit a breath sample, but they can’t if they refuse to submit to a blood test.

The three drivers who took their cases all the way to the Supreme Court for consideration received far different outcomes. The penalty stands for the driver from Minnesota who refused the breath test. The driver from North Dakota who refused the blood test had their ruling reversed, and the other North Dakota driver who consented to a blood test under false pretenses will head back to state court.

Breath tests are a simple way for police to assess a drunk driver, and when people know they will be held accountable and there are repercussions to declining the test, they might think before they drink and drive.

The States With The Most Drunk Driving Arrests

states with the most drunk driving arrestsDrunk driving isn’t a one state problem. Even though some states have more drunk drivers than other states, no cities or towns in the entire nation are free of drunk drivers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that 4.2 million Americans said they drove drunk at least once in the month they were surveyed. This is despite law enforcement stopping people at checkpoints, despite public service announcements, and despite stiff penalties including jail time and driver’s license suspensions.

To get to the source of the problem, a group called Project Know released a report detailing how often people are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in all 50 states. They came up with enough data to demonstrate exactly which states were producing the most drunk drivers, and even pinpointed which streets in select cities had the most DUI arrests.

To tabulate the data the researchers used DUI arrest records from the FBI and compiled them with Census Bureau findings as well as a 2014 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Here are few of their finds:

North Dakota has the most drunk driving arrests

North Dakota had 90.12 arrests per 10,000 people, giving it top billing for drunk driving out of all 50 states. The researchers also noted that North Dakota’s jail time for drunk drivers doubled from 2013 to 2014.

The runners up

North Dakota’s neighbor South Dakota logged 70.21 arrests per 10,000 people, making it a close runner up to the top billing. South Dakota was followed by Wyoming with 64.06, Colorado with 52.04, and Idaho with 45.51 per 10,000 respectively.

The researchers believed that these states had the highest number of DUI arrests due to a few factors: they are geographically close together, they have a low population density, and they have limited options for car sharing and public transportation. That means there are fewer drivers on the road for police to stop, but when someone does decide to drive drunk, police have a higher chance of stopping them when they’re out on the road.

Drunk driving is an epidemic, and no one can explain why one person would decide drunk driving is OK for them while another would never put the keys in the ignition after a drink. What is known is that the best way to stop drunk drivers are ignition interlocks, and in North Dakota and South Dakota, interlocks aren’t mandatory for first or repeat offenders.

This is a list no one wants to be at the top of, and if these states don’t want to always receive top billing, they’ll decide to get on board and require ignition interlocks for all offenders.

There Are A Lot Of People Up North Who Are Driving While Impaired

driving while impairedMost people know that driving while impaired is the wrong thing to do, but some people put the blinders on about how dangerous it is. They really think a drunk driving crash could never happen to them. That is until they crash, someone crashes into them, or someone they love dies due to a drunk driver. Suddenly all of the crash statistics and data out there on how prevalent drunk driving will seem shocking, because you’ve really never thought about it before.

If the Northern states are any indication, there are a lot of people not really thinking about the dangers of drunk driving. According to a study from, there are several Northern states that have a failing grade when it comes to driving while impaired.

The study took data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Committee and analyzed it for driving fatalities that resulted from a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08, arrests for driving under the influence (DUI), and the penalties for DUI as set out by each state.

According to, these are just two Northern states with the most fatalities and driving under the influence (DUI) arrests in 2015.

Driving while impaired in North Dakota

According to North Dakota data, one alcohol-related crash happened every 8.9 hours in 2014. North Dakota is at the top of the heap for both alcohol-related fatalities and DUI arrests, and statistics released from a 2009 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed the state also ranks with some of the highest consumption of alcohol in the North.

Besides heavy drinking, another reason why North Dakota could be at the top of the list is thanks to the state’s lax drunk driving penalties. They only require 10 days jail time for a second DUI offense, a one year driver’s license suspension, and no there is ignition interlock requirement for any offender.

Montana’s drunk driving problem

Montana’s traffic crashes doubled in the first three months of 2015, and almost ¾ of crashes that take place in the state were due to drunk driving or failing to put on a seat belt. Crashes could be increasing because first offenders in Montana may not be required to use an ignition interlock. It’s up to the judge whether or not they do for a first offense, and the person will only lose their driver’s license for 6 months.

These are only two out of ten states on this list, and this is definitely a top ten list no one wants to be on. Maybe these states should take a look at this data and try to improve their drunk driving records, otherwise they’ll continue to have the distinction of having some of the most dangerous roads to drive on.

Convicted of A North Dakota DUI, 20 Years Later

breathalyzerThink a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction can’t haunt you for life? Think again—one man in Grand Forks, North Dakota can tell you otherwise. Now that he’s been charged for a DUI from 1995, he’s finally finding out what it’s like to be held responsible for drinking and driving.

On March 13th, 1995 Jason William Gale was arrested for driving under the influence after driving in a bike lane and swerving on the road. The officer who stopped him administered 4 field sobriety tests which he did not do well on, and once he was taken into custody he was given a breathalyzer.

Gale hired an attorney who filed paperwork, assured him the case was closed, and life went on. He thought the DUI charge was dealt with, so he moved around and did various jobs before he found out after a background check that he had an arrest warrant outstanding.

When he hired another lawyer to deal with the matter, he was surprised to learn that he was going to be tried for misdemeanor DUI in North Dakota. During the trial the prosecution highlighted the incidents that took place in 1995, while the defense argued that a lot of details were inadmissible or forgotten over time.

At the end of the trial, Gale was found guilty of driving under the influence and issued a $500 fine with no jail time or probation. He also must submit to a chemical dependency evaluation. The defense has said an appeal is pending.

Gale is fortunate he wasn’t held to 2015 standards for his DUI. If he was, he’d be looking at least 2 days in jail if his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was over 0.16, a $500 fine, and a 91 day driver’s license suspension. The judge may also order an ignition interlock device for a first offender.

Gale got off relatively easy, but North Dakota drivers who decide to drink before they get behind the wheel do not. Your best bet for not having a DUI conviction haunt you for the rest of your life is to never drink and drive.

Will New Jersey Pass The Ignition Interlock Bill North Dakota Vetoed?

ignition interlockAs more and more states pass legislation requiring ignition interlock devices for all offenders, one state is slowly working its way to stronger interlock laws while another is watching as their law appears dead in the water.

Two senators from New Jersey are seeking an all offender ignition interlock law for their state. Introduced as House Bill S 385, it would improve the current law that requires ignition interlocks for all repeat and first-time drivers convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or greater. With the passing of the bill, all offenders with a BAC of .08 to .14 would have to use the ignition interlock for a period of 3 to 12 months. If the offender drives drunk during the last 1/3 of their interlock program, their time using the ignition interlock will be extended.

The bill would also allow for judge’s discretion if there were aggravating factors added to the DUI. The judge will be able to decide if a complete driver’s license suspension is a better option for that offender and refuse to allow him or her a restricted license or the privilege of installing the interlock device.

While New Jersey’s bill is up in the air, North Dakota’s ignition interlock bill has come crashing down after it was defeated in the House with a vote of 76 to 16. Current DUI laws in North Dakota require drinking drivers to pay fines, lose their driver’s license, and may be required to install an ignition interlock at the judge’s discretion. The new bill would have made ignition interlock devices a mandatory part of the state’s 24/7 sobriety program.

It’s hard to argue with the data supporting ignition interlock devices, and it has been proven that ignition interlock devices reduce the likelihood a drunk driver will drive again by up to 67%. That’s why its surprising North Dakota’s bill has been vetoed. Maybe if New Jersey becomes the latest state on board with an all offender ignition interlock requirement, North Dakota will take another hard look at its own laws.



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