The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed suit against Bay City on Oct. 31 challenging the practice of police requiring people under the age of 21 to submit to a breathalyzer without first obtaining a search warrant. The ACLU’s suit was spurred by an incident involving a 20-year-old woman who was stopped by police in the park and asked to take a breathalyzer. When she refused, the police told her that she would be fined $100, after which she submitted to the police officers’ demands. She was not under the influence of alcohol and passed the breathalyzer test.
The ACLU is challenging the Bay City ordinance that makes it illegal for a person to refuse to take a breathalyzer when asked by police. The decision in this case will likely affect the entire state. A breathalyzer test amounts to a search, but the police are not presenting a warrant as required by the Fourth Amendment. The decision in this case will likely affect the entire state and hopefully alter or eliminate the current MIP law.
Michigan is one state that has such severe laws and penalties for underage drinking. In other states, an underage person must have alcohol on their person to get in trouble with the law, but in Michigan no alcohol needs to be present. A person’s body is classified as a container and only one sip of alcohol allows for an individual to receive a citation.
There are no set rules guiding whom the police select for breathalyzer tests. Students routinely walking home from parties, not causing any trouble and just wanting to get home to sleep off the alcohol, are regularly accosted by police officers and coerced into taking breathalyzers. By using the threat of monetary penalty, people feel like they have no choice but to submit to the test.
When police break up parties, they often make everyone line up by age and take breathalyzers. This is clearly against the Fourth Amendment right against unauthorized search and seizure. The police surround the party-goers and force them to submit or pay a fine. MIP laws create animosity between students and the police. Students do not always call for medical assistance when they are at a party where someone passes out from overdrinking. If the person affected is underage, they are afraid to call 911 out of fear of prosecution. Also, if there are underage people at the party who have been drinking they do not call for the same reason. This leads to a potentially dangerous situation in which someone who should receive medical attention for alcohol poisoning does not get it because people are afraid of an MIP.
The case in Bay City is exactly what the ACLU has been looking for to challenge the current state alcohol laws. The violation of the Fourth Amendment is clear in addition to the fact that the person being forced to submit to the breathalyzer was not under the influence. This case has the potential to change Michigan’s drinking laws to make them more in tune with the rest of the country.