Should the police be required to obtain a warrant to administer a breathalyzer test for minors suspected of drinking or being in possession of alcohol? Michigan high school student Cassie Guthrie believes a warrant should be required. The honor student has recently challenged the constitutionality of a Michigan civil law that punishes anyone under the age of 21 who refuses to submit to a warrantless breathalyzer test. Guthrie claims that the law violates her 4th Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure.
Detective Ken Pelland pulled over a car Guthrie was riding in back in May 2016. Pelland asked the driver and passengers in the vehicle to consent to taking a breathalyzer test to determine whether anyone had been drinking. Guthrie refused to take the test. Upon refusal, Detective Pelland issued Guthrie a ticket. Guthrie was ordered to pay a fine of no more than $100.
Guthrie is now challenging the Grosse Ile Township ordinance and state law that allows police officers to perform breathalyzers on people 20 years or younger without a warrant.
“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.”
“Also, she was not the driver,” Rataj noted. “She was a passenger in a car with a bunch of other high school seniors.”
“What’s especially egregious,” says Rataj, “is that police are intimidating teenagers into taking Breathalyzers and telling them, ‘You need to prove your innocence.’ That’s not the way the criminal justice system works.”
Guthrie is a law abiding resident of Michigan. Grosse Ile Township Supervisor Brian Loftus supports the township ordinance and defended the detective’s action.
“There is no benefit to underage drinking or drug use. We have this ordinance to protect both minors and the community at large,” Loftus said.
“Detective Ken Pelland is a very experienced police officer. He runs our D.A.R.E. program. He is one of the founders of sobriety court. I have every confidence in Detective Pelland’s reasonable enforcement of our township ordinances,” Loftus said. “I’m going to stand with Detective Pelland on this until I’m convinced otherwise.”
Currently, laws in 13 states that punish the refusal to submit to a blood, urine, or breath test are at issue in the United States Supreme Court. The plaintiffs argue that such tests conducted without a warrant are unconstitutional. A decision regarding the constitutionality of such laws is expected in late June. I plan to release a blog article that will highlight the court’s decision.
Contact my law office if you have been arrested for drunk driving in the Washtenaw County area. I provide legal defense to Ann Arbor residents charged with drunk driving as well as individuals charged with minor in possession charges.