SCOTUS to Revisit Warrantless Tests

Despite the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Missouri v. McNeely and essentially protecting operating while intoxicated (OWI) defendants nationwide from being forced to take blood tests without their consent unless police have a warrant, 13 states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, have made it a crime to refuse to take such a test. Now, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases on whether it is a constitutional violation to criminalize refusal to submit to warrantless blood tests. The two leading cases include Birchfield v. North Dakota and Bernard v. Minnesota. In North Dakota, the refusal to submit to a chemical test of blood, breath, or urine is a crime carrying the same punishment as impaired driving. In Minnesota, the crime of refusing to submit to a chemical test is a gross misdemeanor, while a first-offense DWI with no other aggravating factors is a misdemeanor. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 2016.

Colorado and Drugged Driving: The story, so far

The Denver Post reported that Colorado State Patrol arrested fewer people on allegations they were driving under the influence of marijuana last year (2015) than in the previous year. The report is the first glimpse at how the change in law is affecting highway safety, because the patrol did not keep statistics on the number of people accused of driving under the influence of marijuana prior to 2014, when recreational pot became legal. Highway safety experts said they were not reading too much into the numbers. But others said it is a good indicator that Coloradans are getting the message about the dangers of stoned driving. "It's not as much of a public danger as it was made out to be when recreational marijuana was first legalized," said Jay Tiftickjian, a Colorado DUI attorney who edited a textbook on marijuana and the law. He believes government educational campaigns are working. But Trooper Josh Lewis, a highway patrol spokesman, said his agency wants three to five years of data before drawing conclusions. One year of numbers is not enough to spot a trend. "We'd certainly like to think education and enforcement action are making our roads safer, but until we have data for multiple years we simply don't know," Lewis said.

Issue Brief: Admissibility of Seatbelt Usage as Evidence

In light of the 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling in Nabors Well Services, Ltd. v. Romero the most recent Issue Brief looks at the admissibility of seatbelt non-use as evidence in car accident cases. Also of great use to readers is a state-by-state breakdown of state legislation that dictates the rules on admissibility relative to seatbelt evidence. The article also looks at the recent research and case law applicable to the topic. 

ABA: Traffic Court Seminar. New Orleans, La. March 16-18

The upcoming Traffic Court seminar hosted by the American Bar Association at the Hotel Monteleone is designed for judges, judicial officers, prosecutors,  and defense attorneys appearing in these courts.  Attendance will provide you with an opportunity to meet and network with others from throughout the country to discuss the latest developments in traffic court law, technology, and scientific evidence.

Upcoming Courses at the National Judicial College

The following courses are offered by the NJC in Reno, Nevada in the coming months. A limited number of scholarships are available through generous funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Please contact Rebecca Bluemer at for more information.

Traffic Issues in the 21st Century. May 16-19. Reno, NV: This course is designed to provide judges with an overview of the impaired driving issue, and will provide insight into several pertinent areas, such as impairment detection methods, the pharmacological effects of drugs and alcohol on the human body, and effective sentencing methods. The arena of traffic-related legal matters is constantly evolving, and as such, it is necessary for traffic adjudicators to stay abreast of the newly emerging issues. Our Traffic Issues in the 21st Century course will delve into the most up-to-date, pertinent traffic topics that are appearing in our courts today. This years’ topics will include: the fundamentals of alcohol and drug testing; understanding addiction issues; marijuana legalization and related traffic issues; the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) information and demonstration; distracted driving issues; elder driver issues; self-represented litigants; and Commercial Driver’s License issues.

NCSC Traffic Resource Center

The Traffic Resource Center is a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to establish a resource for judges, court administrators, court clerks, and other court staff on issues related to traffic adjudication. It is an integrated clearinghouse of information as well as a training and technical assistance resource to improve court decision-making and processing of traffic cases involving impaired driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and commercial driving. The purpose of the Traffic Resource Center website is to provide a useful, ready reference for judges new to the bench or recently assigned to traffic cases, who may need quick access to accurate and timely information until they can receive more formal, structured education.

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