Kansas high court may reconsider rulings on ‘implied consent’ DUI laws

photo by: Associated Press

In this file photo from Dec. 29, 2011, a car approaches a sobriety checkpoint set up along a busy street in Albuquerque, N.M.

? The Kansas Supreme Court is preparing to reconsider a controversial ruling from earlier this year that said drivers suspected of DUI cannot be charged with a crime for refusing to take a blood-alcohol test, and law enforcement officers cannot threaten suspects with stiffer penalties for such a refusal.

The court said Friday it will hold what’s called a “summary calendar” hearing on that question Dec. 16, but it does not plan to hear oral arguments. Instead, the justices will conference among themselves that day to consider the case, based solely on the written record before them.

The court had already agreed to reconsider the cases in an unpublished notice issued Sept. 29, but had not announced a schedule.

The cases involve the state’s “implied consent” law, which means that when a driver obtains a license and drives on public roads, he or she has already given tacit consent to be tested for drugs or alcohol if a law enforcement official suspects the person of driving under the influence.

In a series of rulings in February, the court struck down a Kansas statute making it a misdemeanor to refuse to take a breath test or other kind of field sobriety test. The court also said officers could not threaten suspects by telling them that refusal to take such a test could result in more serious penalties.

Shortly after those rulings, however, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the court to put the rulings on hold, pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving similar laws in two other states.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld those laws in Minnesota and North Dakota. Schmidt then filed a motion asking the Kansas court to reconsider its rulings.

Friday’s announcement of the hearing was contained in an unpublished notice to attorneys involved in those cases, and it came on the same day the court issued two new opinions on the same issue, this time saying officers may obtain search warrants to draw blood from a DUI suspect if that suspect refuses to consent to a test voluntarily.

But the court cautioned in an earlier letter, dated Oct. 14, that attorneys should not read too much into its decision to reconsider, or its decision not to hear oral arguments.

“This does not mean the case has been prejudged or is deemed unimportant,” the letter stated. “It does mean that, on the basis of the briefs, it is not thought that oral arguments will be helpful to the court or (are) essential to a fair hearing.”

The letter said a decision in the matter will be made “as soon as practicable.”