Alcohol Tests on Pedestrians Apparently Illegal

Honors student Katie Platt was 19 when police in a Michigan township demanded that she and some of her friends submit to a Breathalyzer test. Anyone who asserts their Fourth Amendment Constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure faces a $100 fine.

Ms. Platte, whose test found she had consumed no alcohol, says "I don't think it's fair for young people to have to choose between a $100 fine and an invasion of privacy." She objects to the fact that under Michigan’s law young people are considered guilty until proven innocent.

Michigan is the only state in the US that still permits police who have no search warrant to either force a person under age 21 to submit to a Breathalyzer or be punished for not doing so.

Lawyer Michael Steinberg is representing Ms. Platt and three other plaintiffs who are filing a federal lawsuit. He says the test is an invasive bodily search and that “in the United States of America, the government can’t search a person’s body without the permission of the court.”

A nearly identical ordinance in another Michigan city was recently struck down as unconstitutional. However, the State Police and many other law enforcement offices continue to demand Breathalyzer tests of pedestrians on the basis of a state law.

“It appears some Michigan police officers need to brush up on the Fourth Amendment - and so do state lawmakers…. legislators should repeal the law, one clearly at odds with the Constitution” asserts an editorial in the Lansing State Journal.

Mr. Steinberg said the purpose of the case is to “solve the problem across the state.” It’s expected that the plaintiffs will win their case in court.

It’s important to enforce laws, but not at the expense of basic constitutional rights prized by individuals.

 

References:

  • Davis, Scott. Federal suit challenges breath test, Saginaw News, October 5, 2005; Michigan laws forcing young people to take alcohol tests challenged. Join Together, August 5, 2005; Alcohol test (editorial), Lansing State Journal, August 8, 2005.

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