Police in Arizona can’t flatly tell drunken-driving suspects that state law requires them to submit to alcohol testing, the Arizona Supreme Court said Tuesday in a ruling that acknowledges that a state-provided form and earlier rulings by courts indicated otherwise.
Because suspects actually can refuse to submit to alcohol testing if police haven’t obtained a warrant from a judge, it violates the suspects’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable warrantless searches to tell them they must consent, the court’s ruling said.
That’s because the suspects would believe they must comply, Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer wrote for the court. “Our society expects, and unquestionably demands, that people follow directives issued by law enforcement officials.”
The ruling provided guidance for police, saying officers should ask suspects to consent to alcohol tests and then tell those refusing that they face non-criminal consequences such as loss of their driver’s license for a year or longer.
While the justices said a man arrested in a Cochise County DUI case was wrongly told he had to submit to tests, the ruling nevertheless upheld his convictions and sentence.
The ruling said that’s because the state trooper who arrested the man acted in good faith based on what was understood to be the law based on decades-old court rulings and on a state-provided form used by police.
While part of the form says a person’s driving privileges will be suspended for varying periods of time if the person doesn’t submit to testing or complete it, the ruling noted that the form states several times that people are required to submit and complete the testing.
Three justices — two current ones and one retired justice — joined in Timmer’s opinion. A fifth justice agreed with parts of the majority opinion but dissented on other parts.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday also issued a ruling on a similar testing-consent issue in a Maricopa County case involving a man convicted of operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol.
While the ruling in the boating case reiterated the court’s overall finding from the other case, it overturned the boater’s convictions because prosecutors early in the case didn’t raise the issue of whether the arresting officer was acting in good faith. The boater’s case now returns to a trial court for further consideration.
Trial judges in both cases had rejected defense requests to block use of alcohol test results on grounds that they were coerced. Courts that reviewed initial appeals in both cases upheld the convictions.