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Does the Bill of Rights protect you from chemical breath tests?

On Behalf of | Mar 9, 2022 | Criminal defense

If you don’t know your rights as outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, you may not assert them when dealing with the police. On the other hand, you could try to assert rights that don’t really exist, which can be just as bad.

During a traffic stop where a police officer suspects chemical impairment, they will likely ask the driver to perform a chemical breath test. Some people mistakenly believe that the Fourth or Fifth Amendments protect them from penalties if they refuse the test. Is that true?

The Fifth Amendment

If you have ever watched a movie or television show featuring a criminal trial, you may have seen someone plead the Fifth. That is, a character giving testimony in court invokes their right not to answer a question out of fear of self-incrimination.

The Fifth Amendment makes it possible for people to avoid any statement in court, in both criminal and civil proceedings, that would implicate them. You may assume that you can invoke your Fifth Amendment right during any interaction with the police, but that is not how the Fifth Amendment works. It has no influence on police searches, only on court proceedings. The Fourth Amendment applies to police searches.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment helps protect you from police misconduct, like unnecessary searches. This includes searches of your body. Despite what some people think, the Fourth Amendment does not protect drivers from chemical breath testing.

Your right to be free from unreasonable searches affects the ability of the police to detain you or go through your property without your consent. However, when you drive on public roads, you must comply with the Pennsylvania traffic laws.

The implied consent law makes it so that all drivers must submit to chemical testing when a police officer has probable cause to suspect that they are under the influence or risk arrest and the loss of their license. Neither the Fifth Amendment nor the Fourth Amendment protects you from chemical testing during an impaired driving traffic stop.