Michigan Law for Breathalyzers & People under 21 Deemed Unconstitutional


A Michigan DUI law passed to bolster the fight against underage drinking has been ruled unconstitutional in a federal court.

Specifically, the Michigan law in question allowed police officers to make pedestrians under the age of 21 take a breathalyzer test during a DUI traffic stop.

A federal judge ruled last week that this Michigan Minor in Possession (MIP) law is unconstitutional and that police officers could not require pedestrians in the state to take a breathalyzer without first having a search warrant.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson struck down this Michigan MIP law, which he found to be in direct opposition to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protecting against unreasonable searches. As a side note, Lawson struck down a similar Bay City ordinance in 2003 that was based in large part off this Michigan MIP law.

Lawson's decision does not apply to drivers suspected of being Michigan DUI and also allows police officers to administer breath tests in emergency situations.

This MIP law was initially challenged in a 2005 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of two women who claimed that they were forced to take a breath test by police in June of 2004 despite the fact that they had not been drinking and two male Central Michigan students who claimed they were forced to do so by a "Party Patrol" at a chaperoned graduation party in May 2003.

Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, described Lawson's decision in a prepared statement as being "a tremendous victory for the civil liberties of young adults".

Moss added in the statement that Michigan police officers have been violating the rights of "countless college students and others under the age of 21 by forcing them to submit to breathalyzers without a court order" for years.

A Detroit Free Press story detailed how Michigan is one of a handful of states in the country with MIP laws. It further described how Michigan pedestrians under 21 are not only considered guilty of a civil infraction upon refusing a breathalyzer without a warrant and but must also pay a $100 fine.

The story even went on to depict how police officers in some places like Michigan State University have warned young adults that refusing a breathalyzer test upon demand could lead to as many as a dozen hours in jail.

Ultimately, Lawson's 32-page opinion on the Michigan MIP law is not only a victory for the civil rights of pedestrians under the age of 21 but also another example of the importance of staying updated on the DUI laws in your state.

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