The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has challenged a law that allows police to issue Breathalyzer tests to civilians under the age of 21 without a search warrant.
Under current state law, it is illegal to refuse a Breathalyzer test, which measures blood alcohol content. If a person refuses to submit to the test they are guilty of a civil infraction, and may be punished with a $100 fine, or by being arrested.
The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit last Thursday on behalf of two women in Saginaw County against Thomas Township police.
Katie Platte, one of the women the ACLU is representing, said she was forced to submit to the test while sitting outside of her friend’s house by the pool in the late afternoon. Thomas Township police told Platte and her friends that if they didn’t submit to a Breathalyzer test, they would be taken to jail.
The test revealed that Platte, who is now a student at Saginaw Valley State University, had not been drinking, and she was not punished, but she was still forced to submit to an unconstitutional search.
“You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but in this case young people are assumed guilty until they prove they’re innocent,” Platte said.
Department of Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said that in accordance with the state law, students who refused to take the test would be cited with a civil infraction.
The DPS policy appears to be stricter than that of the Ann Arbor Police Department. AAPD officers do not issue citations to individuals who refuse a Breathalyzer test, but added that a police officer could still have the ability to charge someone, by either a sobriety test, or by obtaining a search warrant, AAPD Deputy Police Chief Gregory O’Dell said.
“This lawsuit is in part aimed at stopping abuse of power by police on campus,” Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of ACLU of Michigan said.
Ashley Berden, another plaintiff from Saginaw County, had already left from a graduation party when the Thomas Township police showed up.
When the police found Berden’s purse at the party, they woke her up at 4:00 a.m. in order to administer a breath test. The police told Berden that if she refused to take the Breathalyzer test, that she would be guilty of a civil infraction. The test registered a 0.00-percent blood alcohol level.
Steinberg said that these are not isolated incidents.
“The problem of police abusing their power under this law is especially prevalent on campuses across this state. We receive dozens and dozens of calls from college students who are simply walking across campus on a weekend and are stopped and forced to take a breath test, or about campus police coming into parties unannounced and making every person line up and take a breath test,” Steinberg said.