Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County Settle Breathalyzer Lawsuit

Agree to stop breath tests of minors without warrants

DETROIT – In response to an ACLU lawsuit, Mount Pleasant and Isabella County have agreed to stop forcing pedestrians under age 21 to take breathalyzer tests without first obtaining a search warrant.  Both municipalities have also each agreed to pay $5000 to two young Mt. Pleasant men who were forced to take a breath test.

“We hope police departments across the state will follow Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County’s example and stop punishing young people who are walking down the street for refusing a breathalyzer test,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU.  “The Constitution is clear the police cannot violate the privacy rights of pedestrians by searching them without a court order.”

The agreement partially settles an ACLU lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Michigan law that makes it illegal for non-drivers under age 21 to refuse an officer’s demand to take a breath test.  Michigan is the only state in the country to have such a law.

In May, 2003, Cullin Stewart and Samuel Maness were at a chaperoned graduation party when an interagency police task force called the “Party Patrol” arrived and began grabbing students and forcing them to the ground.  The students were then placed in a circle and asked whether or not they had consumed any alcohol.  Stewart stated truthfully that he had not been drinking, but he and the other students were nonetheless required to submit to a breathalyzer test.  The Party Patrol was comprised of officers from the Mount Pleasant Police Department, Isabella County Sheriff’s Department, Michigan State Police and the Central Michigan University Police Department.

“I will be happy if this case prevents other people from experiencing the abuse and humiliation that I experienced on my graduation night,” said Maness, a CMU student who is donating his share of the money to a scholarship fund maintained by the Mount Pleasant Area Community Foundation.”

While Mt. Pleasant and Isabella have settled their portion of the case, Stewart and Maness’ case against the Michigan State Police and Central Michigan University continues.  Additionally, the case against the City of Saginaw and Thomas Township on behalf of two Saginaw County women, Katie Platte and Ashley Berden has not been settled. 

Mount Pleasant and Isabella County has agreed to stop the practice of forcing breathalyzers on non-drivers without a warrant until U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson issues a ruling in the rest of the case.  If Judge Lawson finds the state law unconstitutional, they agree to permanently stop the practice.

In November, 2003 Judge Lawson struck down a Bay City ordinance that is identical to the state law being challenged in this case.  He held that the ordinance violates the Fourth Amendment because (1) a breath test is a search, (2) the Fourth Amendment ordinarily prohibits searches without search warrants, and (3) no exceptions to the search warrant requirement apply.  The ruling does not apply to drivers of a motor vehicle and the ACLU did not challenge the ability of officers to give breath tests to suspected drunk drivers without a warrant because driving is a privilege, not a right.

The plaintiffs are being represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Marshall Widick, William Street and David A. Moran, along with Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss.

To read the Judgment against Mt. Pleasant, go to:

www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/judgmentmtpleasant.pdf

To read the Judgment against Isabella County, go to:

www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/judgmentisabellacounty.pdf          

To read the amended complaint, go to:

www.aclumich.org/pdf/attachments/firstamendedcomplaint.pdf 

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