Penalty for refusing breath test upheld

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  • | 12:00 p.m. June 8, 2015
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An appeals court Friday upheld the constitutionality of a state law that allows criminal charges to be filed against suspected drunken drivers who refuse to take breath tests.

The 18-page ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeal came in a Volusia County case that stemmed from the October 2013 arrest of William Williams on a suspicion of driving under the influence.

A police officer asked Williams to take a breath test but did not have a warrant. Williams refused to take the test. The case centered, at least in part, on a law that applies to people who refuse to submit to breath tests after also refusing to submit to tests in earlier DUI cases, according to Friday’s ruling.

That law allows such people to be charged with first-degree misdemeanors. Williams, who had previously refused a breath test, entered a no-contest plea in the October 2013 arrest, with the caveat that he could appeal.

The appeals-court ruling weighed whether the Florida law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The court focused on whether it is unconstitutional to file criminal charges when officers do not have warrants for breath tests.

“Here, balancing the state’s legitimate interest against the degree to which the breath-alcohol test would have intruded upon Williams’ privacy, we conclude that the warrantless test would have been reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,’’ said the ruling, written by Judge Jay Cohen and joined by judges Thomas Sawaya and Richard Orfinger. “The state clearly has a legitimate interest in decreasing and prosecuting drunk driving.”

Arguments set in Scott ‘LIP’ lawsuit

A U.S. District Court judge will hear arguments June 19 in a lawsuit filed by Gov. Rick Scott against the federal government in a dispute about the Low Income Pool health-funding program.

Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers issued an order Thursday scheduling a hearing on Scott’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the case.

Scott filed the lawsuit April 28 amid a state budget impasse that stemmed heavily from questions about the future of the so-called LIP program and a dispute between the House and Senate about whether to offer health coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income people. Scott contends that the Obama administration has unconstitutionally tried to link expanding Medicaid with the continuation of LIP — a contention that the federal government has called “baseless.”

Attorneys for the state filed a motion last month seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent federal officials from linking the issues. Rodgers will hear the arguments at a federal courthouse in Pensacola.