Student sues police for fine after refusing Breathalyzer

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Good for her! A Michigan high school student who was fined when she refused to take a Breathalyzer test — even though she was only a passenger in the vehicle — has filed a federal lawsuit claiming her constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches was violated.

The law violates Guthrie’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches, her Detroit lawyer told NBC News. “Her rights were violated when she was forced to submit to Breathalyzer to prove her innocence,” attorney Mike Rataj said. “That is not how the criminal justice system works. This is a girl who has never been in trouble before and has no criminal history.”

It can be argued that a driver has made a deal with the state, which provides roads and regulates their safe use, and must submit. She however was merely a passenger, and thus any search of her body really does require a warrant, as per the Bill of Rights. I hope she wins.


  • Edward

    From the article: “State officials have argued that without the authority to punish drivers who refuse blood alcohol tests there will be more drunk driving deaths.”

    I’m having some difficulty understanding the police’s problem with the passenger. Is it now illegal to be inebriated as a passenger in a car? Is RWI (riding while intoxicated) now a crime? Could I now be pulled over because the police have reason to suspect my passenger is both underage and not sober? If so, how do the police (or the legislators) suggest I get the kids home after some idiot spiked the punch?

    What happened to the designated driver concept? I have been a designated driver for decades, but now I am concerned that the police think it a crime to transport an inebriated underage person or that *I* may have to take a blood alcohol test because I am transporting him.

  • Cotour

    If you are not operating the vehicle then why would the police have an interest in testing a passenger? I think that the police department may in the end be paying for her college tuition, and that is as it should be. Monetary penalties for the municipality are the only feedback that might correct the miss use and abuse of police power in cases like this.

  • wayne

    Good points, both.

    I haven’t read her actual complaint or the Statute (yet). I am however, somewhat familiar with the increasingly draconian laws we have in Michigan. (On one hand we are getting ready to totally legalize weed (we want the tax $), on the other hand we hound passenger’s in cars…)

    This TYPE of stuff came about in Michigan over the course of 20 years, partially homegrown nanny-ism & partially pressure from the Feds via Highway/Medicaid Funding, to crack down on “drunk-driving,” in general.
    “Everyone” was on-board, Speeches’ were made, backs were patted, and a series of high-minded, incrementally devious laws were enacted by both sides of the isle.
    And it was all sold to us, on behalf of “the children,” & that apparently meant “lock them up.”

  • D K Rögnvald Williams

    Either there is more to this story or stay out of Michigan.

  • Matt in AZ

    Sadly, laws targeting the public on behalf of public safety are getting ever more invasive. You may have to start thinking twice about what cards you carry while driving…

  • Edward

    Matt in AZ,
    Interesting article: “If you can prove that you have a legitimate reason to have that money it will be given back to you. And we’ve done that in the past.”

    We now have to prove that we have a legitimate reason to possess money? We are somehow presumed guilty by reason of having cash (or cash cards) until we can prove our innocence?

    It is one thing when you have to fear the thieves, but when the police become the thieves — taking your money because he “does not like” the way you are acting, the way you look, or the story he makes you tell — there is not much difference between the US and a corrupt country.

    It’s a new crime: DWW, or Driving While Wealthy.

  • wayne

    D K Rögnvald Williams:
    -Just stay on the west side of Michigan (Lake Michigan shoreline)– we have Craft-Brewery’s in every County, more vineyards than you might think, & Indian Casino gaming in every-other County.) And we love Tourists! Lots-o-Campgrounds! (At one time, we were the “Beer Tent Capital of the World.”)
    –I’m still looking up this particular case, but it is illustrative of some draconian type stuff that has been slipped into our State Criminal Code the past 20-30 years.
    The Free Press article isn’t complete, but the “out” might be, it’s a civil-infraction to refuse. (I just do not know. It is “illegal” to drink if you are less than 21 years old, as for breathalyzing a passenger in a car, it certainly sounds illegal to me.)

    That being said– this girl’s Father is exactly correct— never voluntarily submit to a breathalyzer (as a driver or otherwise) Not advocating/condoning drunk-driving in any way shape or form, but your lawyer can challenge everything except a voluntary test.
    As a driver in Michigan, if you do refuse a breathalyzer test from an Officer, you will be ticketed & lose your drivers license, at a minimum. (it’s a separate offense from driving while impaired/drunk.) Seriously however–in this day & age, any Officer in Michigan, can get a Warrant, electronically, literally 24/7/365.
    If they want a Warrant, they can get one. (and they should…)
    As for this young girl, I will find her actual complaint. FP article mentions other instances where this has happened in Mi., and they are being challenged, but the “rest of the story” is lacking. (and there are always pesky-details.)

    I’d be interested in hearing from law-enforcement in the audience.
    On this, or “traffic stops” in general which involve “young people & suspected alcohol.” What’s the appropriate ‘default-action’ for high-quality policing?

    I’m personally very libertarian on all this and would err on preserving privacy above ‘suspicion,’ and getting an actual warrant is easy. I don’t want to hamper the Police unnecessarily, but I don’t want to live in a Police State.
    Anyway… I’m speculating w/o facts on the girl, but it certainly sounds flakey & something we would do. (Gross Isle is just outside the Detroit metro zone.)

    Visit West Michigan and bring money!

  • Joe

    Grosse Ile is in the mouth of the Detroit river where Lake Erie intersects it, have really not heard any of this through the local news channel and have never heard of this kind of trouble from Grosse Ile, over all a nice island community. This is the first I have heard of s.e. Michigan community’s doing this kind of enforcement, although you do hear of parties gone bad and local authorities giving all kind of legal troubles to home owners involved with under age drinking, as Wayne says, western Michigan is beutiful, as is northern Michigan north of the Zilwaukee bridge, w/ plenty of casinos and other adult venues

  • ” I hope she wins.”

    I not only hope she wins, I hope she sues the police in civil court for damages. Sane people need to realize that there can be no quarter in the brewing fight against oppression. No quarter, no mercy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *