Key Supreme Court Case Applies Retroactively to DUI Offenders

Posted by Shawn B. Hamp | Jan 10, 2018 | 0 Comments

Just over a year ago, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a rare ruling on a case involving driving under the influence (DUI). The case was Birchfield v. North Dakota, and it allowed police to perform breath tests on people they've arrested for DUI, even if they don't have a warrant. However, warrantless blood tests on DUI arrestees violated the Fourth Amendment.

The case was a recent one, only issued on June 23, 2016. Some DUI cases that are currently winding their way through the court involved people who were arrested before Birchfield was decided. Now, the neighboring state of New Mexico has decided that the rules of Birchfield should apply to those cases as well.

DUI Suspect Convicted for Refusing Blood Test

In the early morning of April 23, 2011, New Mexico police conducted a sobriety checkpoint. One of the people they pulled over was Laressa Vargas. She showed signs of inebriation, failed field sobriety tests, and was arrested. However, when police requested she take a breathalyzer, she blew a 0.04% and then a 0.05%, well below the legal limit. Suspecting that she was under the influence of drugs, police asked Vargas to take a blood test, but she refused. She was then charged with aggravated DUI, which in New Mexico involves refusing to take a blood or breath test and showing signs of impairment, and was convicted.

At no point did the police have a warrant for the blood or the breath test.

Vargas appealed her conviction, but her appeal took years. During that time, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Birchfield, which said warrantless blood tests violated the Fourth Amendment.

New Mexico Retroactively Applies Protections of Birchfield

When Vargas' appeal finally reached the New Mexico Supreme Court, the judges there decided that the protections of Birchfield extended to protect her, even though her case started before that landmark decision. That decision, New Mexico v. Vargas, was only just made on October 5, 2017.

What This Means for Arizonans Convicted of DUI

While Vargas happened in New Mexico, not Arizona, that does not mean that it can't impact the law in our own state. New Mexico is a neighboring state with many of the same values and much of the same culture that we find in Arizona, so courts in Arizona treat it as a “sister jurisdiction” and frequently follow key decisions that come from New Mexico. This means Arizonans who have been convicted for DUI based on warrantless blood tests could benefit from appealing their conviction.

DUI-Defense Attorneys at the Arizona Criminal Traffic Law Firm

The Arizona Criminal Traffic Law Firm represents clients who have violated one of the many rules of the road in Arizona, including drunk driving, fighting for their rights and interests both in and out of the courtroom.

Contact their law office online or call them at (888) 202-9222 for the legal representation that you need to preserve your right to drive.

About the Author

Shawn B. Hamp

President and lead counsel for The Hamp Law Offices, LLC (An Arizona Professional Corporation), Shawn Hamp has practiced law for more than 15 years with an emphasis in criminal law. An experienced trial attorney, Mr. Hamp has been lead counsel in hundreds of criminal trials and court...


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