drinking

Michigan High School Student Sues Over Warrantless Breathalyzer Test

The student is challenging a local ordinance and a state law for being in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

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Miguel Ángel Ramón / Pixabay

A high school student in Grosse Ile Township, Michigan, filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday after a police officer cited her for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test without a search warrant.

Casey Guthrie is challenging a local ordinance and a state law that allow officers to perform breath tests on those under 21 if they have a reasonable cause. Under the Michigan Liquor Control Code, those who refuse to undergo the test are cited for a civil infraction and may be ordered to pay a fine of no more than $100.

The lawsuit comes out of an incident in May, when Detective Ken Pelland pulled over a vehicle Guthrie was riding in. Pelland asked those in the car to agree to a breath test to see whether or not they had been drinking. Guthrie refused, so Pelland wrote her a ticket.

Now she's arguing this ordinance is unlawful and a violation of the Fourth Amendment, as Pelland was not first required to get a warrant to conduct these tests.

"What's especially egregious is that police are intimidating teenagers into taking Breathalyzers and telling them, 'You need to prove your innocence,'" the gir's lawyer, Mike Rataj said. "That's not the way the criminal justice system works."

Guthrie's lawsuit is actually not unusual for Michigan. As the Detroit Free Press reports:

Over the past decade in Michigan, judges have struck down warrantless Breathalyzer tests three times, most recently in 2007, when U.S. District Judge David Lawson struck down a state law that allowed police to force pedestrians under the age of 21 to take a Breathalyzer without first obtaining a search warrant.

In a 32-page opinion, Lawson concluded the state law violated the Fourth Amendment. But his ruling does not apply to drivers of a motor vehicle.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two women, ages 18 and 19, who had attended high school graduation parties and were pressured into taking breath tests, even though neither had been drinking, records show. In one case, local police showed up at the 18-year-old's house at 4 a.m., woke up her family and demanded that she take a breath test, noting her refusal to do so would be considered unlawful.

The teenager took the test, which registered a .00% blood-alcohol level, records show.

Lawson heard a similar case in 2003, when he struck down a Bay City Breathalyzer ordinance. Following that decision, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent letters or emails to 425 city, village and university attorneys advising them to urge their local law enforcement agencies to stop forcing minors to take unconstitutional Breathalyzer tests.

While pedestrians and minors are already protected under the law, Guthrie's lawsuit may be a step in extending these rights to those behind the wheel. If officers have a reason to believe a teenager may have been drinking, they should get a warrant.

[Hat tip: Aaron Lanning]

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  1. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!

    1. FTA:

      “This has already been dealt with,” said Rataj, who wants his client’s ticket dismissed, and a ruling to “make cops get search warrants before they get kids to blow.”

      Let me be the first to say… phrasing.

  2. In California they get around the blatant unconstitutionality of this kind of thing by automatically suspending your license rather than citing you for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer. That was it’s just an administrative thing and all you have to do is wait a year and then prostrate yourself before the DMV to get your driving privileges back.

    1. Wouldn’t work here – and something the article confuses itself on – she was a *passenger* in the vehicle, not the driver.

      Detective Ken Pelland pulled over a vehicle Guthrie was riding in.

      So, maybe she was driving – but usually you would *say* driving for the driver and *riding* for the passengers.

      And a side note:

      If officers have a reason to believe a teenagerDRIVER may have been drinking, they should get a warrant.

      I don’t understand the focus on making the law what it *should be* for teenagers if they’re then going to have to deal with the bullshit for the rest of their lives when they turn 21.

      1. The focus is on teenagers because it is illegal for teenagers to drink. There would be no reason to test over 21 passengers for alcohol.

        Of course they should also have to get a warrant to test a driver of any age, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

        1. Sure – but the article focuses on the effect this lawsuit could have on drivers – when its blatantly obvious that it would have no effect, regardless of the driver’s age. Because the plaintiff wasn’t driving so this will not challenge any of the assumptions undergirding the ‘voluntary consent’ requirements for driving.

          She was a passenger – this will only deal with warrantless searches of non-drivers. And the state has already made it pretty plain that warrantless breathalyzers of non-drivers, including those under 21, is illegal.

        2. The focus is on teenagers because it is illegal for teenagers to drink.

          Is it, really? I thought that it is illegal to sell (or procure) alcoholic drinks to people under 21. Are there explicit statutes which criminalize the consumption of alcoholic drinks by people under 21?

          1. OK, I see further downward that it is an “internal possession” thing … [eyeroll]

      2. Casey, who was a passenger

        From the original article.

        The whole thing about drivers and breathalyzers in the article above is irrelevant – she wasn’t driving, a win on her part will have no effect on drivers, and that win is almost guaranteed in light of

        Over the past decade in Michigan, judges have struck down warrantless Breathalyzer tests three times, most recently in 2007, when U.S. District Judge David Lawson struck down a state law that allowed police to force pedestrians under the age of 21 to take a Breathalyzer without first obtaining a search warrant.

        Which, to me, says that needing a warrant to breathalyze a non-driver is pretty established state law and the local ordnance is flat-out illegal. So illegal that the city attorney should never let it come to light. So illegal that passing it is some serious malpractice shit.

      3. I’m sure she was a passenger. They definitely would have pulled her license if she was the driver.

    2. In California they get around the blatant unconstitutionality of this kind of thing by automatically suspending your license rather than citing you for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer. That was it’s just an administrative thing and all you have to do is wait a year and then prostrate yourself before the DMV to get your driving privileges back.

      That is what they do under New York law for drivers. Going to the administrative court, where you have zero chance of success – your word against a cops, the cops always win (and apparently it is always in my county) – was a fun experience just because I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing a lawyer call the judge a bitch like twenty-five times.

      1. I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing a lawyer call the judge a bitch like twenty-five times.

        What happened to the lawyer?

    3. Same in Washington. They justify this based on driving being defined legally as a privilege, not a right.

  3. Does Mich. even have a law against children’s boozing? Or, like most states, only against selling it to them?

    1. A lot of states have been passing “internal possession” laws.

    2. Most states don’t – but they get around that by deeming having a BAC of over 0.0 to be ‘posession’ – as in you’re holding in your bloodstream.

      San Diego, for a while and I don’t know if they still do this, used to station cops at the TJ border crossing to arrest people under 21 coming back from Mexico (where the drinking age is 18 or twenty bucks).

      1. I wonder if they can arrest the blood and put it on trial.

        San Diego, for a while and I don’t know if they still do this, used to station cops at the TJ border

        Shit, I used to get legally hammered in Niagara Falls, Ont all the time when I was 19. The cops didn’t pull this at all back in the day.

        1. Because they didn’t want to mess with the paperwork. Today they’re on a power trip.

          Kid was drinking, seriously, who give a shit. They weren’t driving.

          1. Yup. I should add that I wasn’t driving in these situations. We always had a “designated driver” and since I didn’t have a license that was never me.

          2. No, it’s not just that, it’s that in NY it’s not illegal for kids to drink or possess.

        2. Its because CA is one of those states that really really really believes that if everyone just obeyed the law then the law could be crafted to make everything great for everyone.

          This is just part and parcel of the thinking that eschews harm reduction for underage alcohol use – they’ll jail your parents for not just things like allowing supervised drinking at a house party but even allowing a kid a glass of watered-down wine with dinner. Of course they’re going to park cops in a place to catch people breaking the *intent* of their laws – that’s stopping CA from achieving utopia.

      2. But most states don’t even make external possession illegal, so that’s quite a leap.

  4. Guthrie refused, so Pelland wrote her a ticket.

    Well then, he wasn’t asking, now was he?

  5. In case this law is struck down, police need to memorize this convenient phrase:

    “I requested that the suspect take a breathalyzer, and he voluntarily agreed to do so.”

    1. “Wait, did I say ‘suspect’? I meant to say ‘the individual with whom I was engaged in a discussion.'”

      1. “No, I didn’t have my dashcam on, I forgot, OK? Now don’t be so uppity.”

      2. Better yet, “the person I was speaking to asked me to give her the breath test, citing her concern that she might be impaired.”

        1. Just say the person made a furtive request for a breath test, then began flailing their arms.

  6. Sounds like she had something to hide. Why is it only suspected criminals run for the cover of the Bill of Rights?

    1. He should have done a roadside vaginal and anal exam. I hope he gets suspended for negligence.

      1. After he digitally checked her pre-paid debit card(s), he could have then digitally checked her cavities.

        1. well done.

        2. *Archer voice*

          Wait, I totally had something for this… something about one in the stink…

          1. “Two in the pink, one in the till”?

  7. OT: This story left me fuming. Coincidentally, it’s from the same neighborhood that brought you the last two presidential terms:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/…..story.html

    1. The guy I rent my shop from is Craig’s business partner. Do you know what they did to the car? In order to get it up to the second floor they needed to put it into an elevator. It was too long so….they cut it in half. Then they did the world’s crappiest job re-welding it and now the body work no longer fits. It’s a huge mess.

  8. In a 32-page opinion, Lawson concluded the state law violated the Fourth Amendment. But his ruling does not apply to drivers of a motor vehicle.

    Srsly? The text of the amendment is only a couple of sentences.

    *”Fuck off, saver,” would be more than sufficient.

    1. “Fuck off, saver”

      What, are you a Keynesian?

    2. “… saver… ” I hate waiting on old ladies with coupons at the grocery store too!

      1. How about the people monopolizing those restaurant tables? Fuck off, savor.

    3. The still-on-time P Brooks was the first to use that phrase on h&r (spelled correctly), so I will give this version of him a break.

      1. But I coined “slave off, fucker”. Unfortunately I misfired by using it prematurely, though the 2nd time was an apt & funny one. I’m holding one back for the right occasion.

    1. You know who else had a thing about alcohol?

      1. Mel Gibson?

      2. Ted Kennedy?

      3. the corn lobby?

      4. Richard Burton (not the explorer, the other one)

      5. Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham?
        The Who drummer Keith Moon?

        Or, any rock band drummer, anytime?

        1. This is why they sometimes just explode.

  9. My “L” key is broken. You know what I meant.

    1. That you hate bargain hunters?

      1. Maybe it was “fuck off, salver”, because he hates those who apply ointment.

  10. Well this seems pretty frickin’ explosive:

    Federal officials Wednesday moved to improve the financial outlook of Obamacare insurance plans by calling for limits on increasingly popular short-term health plans that are siphoning off healthier customers from coverage sold both on government marketplaces and outside those exchanges.

    The government’s move would limit short-term health coverage for an individual to less than three months and bar renewal, as opposed to the almost 12-month term that some of those non-Obamacare-compliant plans are offering, along with a chance to renew.

    http://www.cnbc.com/2016/06/08…..-pool.html

    1. That, in turn, would bring in more premium dollars from people less likely to cost the plans money in the form of benefits paid out for medical care.

      The simple translation:

      We want healthy people to spend dollars on healthcare they don’t need to cover the people who are using more healthcare than their dollars are covering.

      1. You just want to deny sick people “access” to health care!

        1. I had occasion to do some digging into those vaunted X millions of uninsured Americans directly after Obamacare passed. In the raw data were some nine million, iirc*, Americans aged 18-47 with annual incomes greater than $50,000.

          One can assume that any number of young and healthy people who could otherwise afford it were not buying healthcare. One cannot from there leap – LEAP, I say – to that being a bad thing, let alone a public health crisis.

          * I sometimes do not. That number is not a sciencetifical fact.

    2. Federal officials Wednesday moved to improve the financial outlook of Obamacare insurance plans by calling for limits on increasingly popular short-term health plans that are siphoning off healthier customers from coverage sold both on government marketplaces and outside those exchanges.

      Imagine a world where all restaurants were Taco Bell. Of course they outlaw grocery stores to prevent the siphoning of customers from Taco Bell.

      WHY WON’T EVERYONE JUST CONFORM ALREADY?!

  11. “And, in conclusion, I would like to clarify the position of the Federal Reserve on this matter: FUCK OFF, SAVERS.”

    -Janet Yellin

    1. In Scarlet Town
      Where I was born
      There was a fair maid dwellin’
      Became the chair
      of the Federal Reserve
      Her name was Janet Yellen

  12. If officers have a reason to believe a teenager anyone may have been drinking, they should get a warrant.

    FTFY

  13. If driving is a privilege, surely riding as a passenger is a privilege as well. If the state wants to impose conditions on the use of their roads such as surprise drug testing, isn’t that their right? Technically, under Georgia law you’re required to show your driver’s license upon demand by a LEO and failure to do so is an automatic operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license citation – and it doesn’t matter if you’re an eight-year old walking down the sidewalk at the time the LEO demands to see your driver’s license. The law doesn’t say that you have to be operating a motor vehicle at the time and cops will insist “it’s the law” if you question their “papers please” demand.

    1. Re: Jerrykids,

      If driving is a privilege[…]

      Driving? HA! Living is a privilege! The only reason you are still alive is because the government is letting you keep your life for now! What is it about “We Own You” don’t you understand?

      /Is then dragged into the Star Chamber with his head covered with a black velvet bag.

    2. it doesn’t matter if you’re an eight-year old walking down the sidewalk

      lolwut?

    3. I assume you are making a joke here. Perhaps the Georgia law is in fact incompatible with reality. But it would be pretty difficult for people who don’t possess driver’s licenses to produce them on demand.

      1. But it would be pretty difficult for people who don’t possess driver’s licenses to produce them on demand.

        Arrest quota: Secured!

      2. Not presenting a license is a crime – its irrelevant that you’re not required to have a license.

  14. OT: I’m sure this is just a coincidence:

    In an odd twist, an Englewood man who survived being shot seven times by Chicago police in 2014 was arrested on a murder charge just moments after he announced Wednesday he was suing the city for $15 million, authorities said.

  15. A high school student in Grosse Ile Township, Michigan, filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday after a police officer cited her for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test without a search warrant.

    How can the government perform its job of protecting us from foreign and domestic threats if we treat these trivial things like warrantless searches as if they’re deal breakers? The Constitution is not a suicide pact, you know!

    /Gets dragged to the Star Chamber

  16. “…when Detective Ken Pelland pulled over a vehicle Guthrie was riding in…”

    Okay, I’m no expert on police ranks, but isn’t detective a high-ranking cop, usually plain clothes, who is specially trained to investigate and solve complex stuff like murders, smuggling rings, the Mob, etc.?

    Just what did this Pelland do to pull down routine traffic duty? Did he neglect to digitally steal one too many suspects’ gift cards? Did he side against his union rep and criticize some fellow officer who shot up a suicidal dad along with the family’s Pomeranian? Miss his quota on maiming toddlers with flash grenades? Obviously, the guy had pissed his department off somehow.

    1. Maybe he just felt like messing with someone – like old times.

      1. Yeah. He saw a car of teenage girls and thought he might get a quick handie from a crying honor student or find his next ex-wife.

    2. If I were a detective, I’d make it a personal point of pride to never pull anyone over for any traffic violation, because that’s what the hired help do (uniform cops).

      I’d consider myself the big guns, and if it didn’t involve a body or major financial crime, my level of interest would be somewhere around nil.

    3. It’s not a huge town. I’d guess that they all do patrol.

    4. isn’t detective a high-ranking cop

      Not in and of itself, usually. From my understanding, it’s usually more about job function than rank (as opposed to patrolman patrol-whatever).

      It looks like the town pop is just over 10K, so I doubt they have a big police department. If I’m correct, they probably have detectives doing patrol stuff a lot. Or, he just ran across them when he was on duty.

    5. Lot’s of departments have one ‘detective’ – he runs around with the rank but because the department is so small he only *works* as a detective when he’s on a case. The rest of the time he fills a shift on patrol.

  17. Just because we have a 4th amendment doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t have the right to reasonably regulate it.

    1. Well said.

  18. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Im using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I do,

    ?????? http://Usatoday.nypost55.com

  19. “That’s not the way the criminal justice system works.”

    That’s adorable.

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