Latest News 2017 September Massachusetts DUI Suspects Have No Miranda Rights

Massachusetts DUI Suspects Have No Miranda Rights

Some of the most fundamental rights we have in the United States is found in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. They afford American citizens the right to remain silent rather than self-incriminate, and the right to an attorney and a trial. But how does that align with the breathalyzer test and the implied consent law? If you have the right to avoid self-incrimination, how do you not have the right to refuse a breath test?

In August 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Court answered that question definitively in a case that ruled that DUI suspects, prior to arrest, have no Miranda rights. The Miranda warning is the warning that police offer to suspects regarding their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney. The Miranda right is the right to hear the warning prior to being questioned by the police.

In their decision, the court recognized that suspects want legal counsel prior to deciding to take a breath test—however, they don't yet have a right to legal counsel until they're arrested. If you've read this blog recently, you'll be aware of the sequence of events that lead to a police stop and breathalyzer test.

The procedure for a DUI arrest is as follows:

  • You're pulled over for any vehicle code violation
  • The officer reasonably suspects you've been drinking
  • He or she requests that you submit to a breath test
  • It results in a reading above .08, giving the officer probable cause
  • You're arrested on suspicion of DUI

The court ruled that because the breathalyzer test still occurs in the evidence gathering phase of an officer's "limited investigation," that the Miranda warning need not be provided. More to the point, they ruled that the breathalyzer test is "not a critical part" of the criminal investigation; thus, it does not activate a suspect's right to avoid self-incrimination. Critics of the ruling find this baffling, as Massachusetts law stipulates that a breathalyzer result above .08 is automatic proof of DUI.

This decision could have serious ramifications for other states. Few states have had high-profile issues with the right to remain silent and breathalyzer results—however, this case sets a precedent that makes it easier to rule in that direction if another state's Supreme Court tries a similar case.

Allowing incriminating evidence to be exempt from the Fifth Amendment may have troubling side-effects for the rights of suspects.