Court: Impaired drivers entitled to lawyer before taking alcohol, drug test

Supreme court ruling allows drunk drivers to contact lawyer before submitting alcohol, drug test
Updated: Apr. 21, 2017 at 11:39 PM HST
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Attorney Jonathan Burge (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Attorney Jonathan Burge (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Arkie Koehl, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Arkie Koehl, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a unanimous decision Friday, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that anyone pulled over for impaired driving has the right to speak with a lawyer before taking an alcohol or drug test.

The decision is a blow to advocates, who say it could lead to fewer drunk driving prosecutions.

Jonathan Burge, the attorney who brought the case to the state Supreme Court, said an individual could ultimately refuse to take any test. But there are consequences.

"I'd say this evidence will kill you if it comes in, but if you don't do it, you're going to have twice as long a license revocation and that's the decision you'll have to make," he said.d

The ruling throws out a common practice police officers have been doing for years -- telling drivers they weren't entitled to an attorney before submitting a blood or breath test.

Critics argue the ruling is a step backward in the fight against drunk drivers and the ruling could potentially throw out key evidence in criminal cases.

"If you ask for a lawyer and you try to telephone him and he's not available or you forget his number or you can't find someone, by the time you finally find someone the blood alcohol level in your system will have dissipated to the point where you are now sober," said Arkie Koehl, of Mother's Against Drunk Driving.

But Burge said the ruling is "easy to comply with."

"Officers are not going to like it and they'll kick and shout, but it's not the end of the world. I think it's better for people because you actually get to speak to a lawyer," he said.

The prosecutor's office did not comment on the ruling on Friday.

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