Supreme Court ruling perfect example of why it can't be rubber stamp for Legislature
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that a state law criminally punishing drivers who refuse a sobriety test is an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure and 14th Amendment due process rights.
In 2012, the state amended its statutues on driving under the influence, adding a provision stating that refusal to submit to a blood-alcohol content test is a separate crime with punishments comparable to those for DUI.
The statute included a statement that “the opportunity to consent or refuse a test is not a constitutional right.’’
Because protection from unreasonable search and seizure can be voluntarily surrendered by defendants, the State of Kansas argued the law was constitutional. Drivers have surrendered their rights by driving on Kansas roads, the State argued.
On Friday, the court disagreed with that argument in a 6-1 decision.
“In essence, the State’s reasons are not good enough, to encroach on the fundamental liberty interest in avoiding an unreasonable search,’’ wrote Justice Marla Luckert in the majority opinion.
Civil penalties for refusing a blood-alcohol test, such as the loss of a driver’s license, were not affected by Friday’s ruling and remain in effect.
The law was being challenged by four different defendants, including a Shawnee County resident, Derick Wilson.
Wilson was stopped by a Shawnee County sheriff’s deputy in March 2013. He reportedly admitted that he had been drinking and police said he showed signs of inebriation during a field sobriety test.
A deputy obtained a warrant to test Wilson’s blood for alcohol. The defendant was then reportedly held down by deputies and blood was drawn, showing he had a blood-alcohol count of 0.18, police said.
A district court determined Wilson’s due process rights enshrined in the 14th Amendment were violated. The district court went further than the Supreme Court did Friday, determining Wilson’s Fifth Amendment rights to protection from self-incrimination were also violated.
Justice Caleb Stegall, the court’s newest member who was appointed recently by Gov. Sam Brownback, cast the dissenting Supreme Court vote.
Stegall stated that the law was not wholly unconstitutional and that the Supreme Court was inappropriately encroaching on the powers of the State Legislature.
The office of Kansas Attorney General Dereck Schmidt has not announced whether it would appeal the rulings in federal court.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling Friday that refusing to take a sobriety test should not be a criminal offense is a perfect example of why Kansas needs to keep politics out of its court system.
Kansans are best served when the state’s judicial and administrative branches of government are allowed to operate independent of each other – instead of serving as rubber stamps for each other.