Birchfield v. North Dakota, which was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2016, continues to raise questions in courts throughout the country as to how DUI cases can be prosecuted and what evidence can be admitted against defendants charged with DUI. Recently, in Vermont v. Rajda, the Vermont Supreme Court held that a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test could be introduced at trial as evidence of guilt. Illinois DUI law remains unsettled as to whether a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test can be admitted as evidence of guilt, but as courts throughout the country continue to face this issue, it is likely only a matter of time before it is addressed by the Illinois courts.
In Vermont, defendants in several cases filed motions in limine to suppress evidence of their refusal to submit to blood tests from being introduced at trial. The trial court granted the motions, based on its belief that Birchfield recognized a constitutional right to refuse a blood test, which the court believed superseded the Vermont implied consent law and prohibited the admission of a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test into evidence. The state appealed, arguing that Birchfield held that evidence of refusal to submit to a blood test was admissible at trial, and further, that an amendment to Vermont’s implied consent law rendered the constitutional issue moot. On appeal, the court held that the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions in limine, reversing the trial court ruling.
In its analysis, the court noted that the amended Vermont implied consent law stated that a defendant had a right to refuse to submit to evidentiary testing, but evidence of any refusal of a breath test could be introduced as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Defendants interpreted this language as implying that the legislature intended for refusal of breath tests to be permitted into evidence, but not refusal of blood tests. The court disagreed, noting that as the statute did not expressly prohibit admission of a refusal to submit to a blood test, such evidence could be admitted unless it was unconstitutional. Regarding the constitutional issue, the court noted that several other states that addressed the issue found that the Fourth Amendment did not bar evidence of refusal to submit to a blood test, and joined those courts in concluding evidence of refusal to submit to a blood test did not warrant constitutional protection. The court noted that Birchfield only barred the criminalization of a refusal to submit to a blood test, and did not prohibit the prosecution from entering evidence of the refusal. As such, the court held the admission of evidence of a defendant’s refusal to undergo blood testing was permitted.