No Warrant = No Breath Test for Minors

September 16, 2009

Imagine you’re 19 years old and attending a going away party for a friend. Although alcohol is being served, you do not drink. Now imagine going home after the party and being violently stirred awake at 4 a.m. by police officers at your door because they found your purse at the party. Imagine being told that you had to take a breath test or face jail time -- all of this because you attended a party where alcohol was being served. 

Sounds pretty farfetched, but this is exactly what happened to our clients Katie Platte and Ashley Burden in 2005. You might be asking yourself: can police actually do this? The answer, according to a federal judge who presided over Katie and Ashley’s case, is no.

The judge reasoned that the breath test was a search and therefore police officers had to adhere to the Fourth Amendment. Today, because of this case, police cannot force pedestrians under the age of 21 to take a breath test without first obtaining a search warrant –however, this doesn’t mean they can’t cite you with a Minor in Possession ticket without a breath test if you are visibly drunk.

Although, we won this case last year, this issue is still being debated by the courts. Just last week in a 3-0 ruling, the Michigan Court of Appeals said that a Troy ordinance allowing police to give preliminary breath tests to underage pedestrians is unconstitutional.

We're certain this won't be the last time this issue is challenged. So if you, or someone you know, is underage and has been stopped by the police and forced to take a breath test without a warrant, please contact us at aclu@aclumich.org.

By Rana Elmir, ACLU of Michigan Communications Director

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