ACLU, Livonia Settle Lawsuit Challenging Unconstitutional Breath Test of 13-Year-Old

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
December 16, 2011 12:00 am

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Group Publishes Know Your Rights Guide for Teens Confronted with Breath Tests

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DETROIT – The lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of a 13-year-old student who was forced by Livonia police to submit to an unconstitutional breathalyzer test has been settled. The City of Livonia has agreed to institute new policies and training to prevent unconstitutional breathalyzer searches of minors from occurring in the future. United States District Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed the case this week after the settlement agreement was reached.

In addition, the ACLU of Michigan announced today a Know Your Rights resource guide for teens in similar situations to clarify the rights and responsibilities of individuals and law enforcement officials.

“We commend the City of Livonia on their quick action to resolve this matter. No innocent child should endure such a degrading and embarrassing procedure,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “The Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement is designed to prevent exactly what happened in this case. The new policy and training is the first step to ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.”

In September, the ACLU of Michigan filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the student asking the court to rule that the Livonia police violated his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In response, the City of Livonia denied wrongdoing but agreed to settle the lawsuit by removing the student’s name from all law enforcement databases and adopting a breathalyzer policy that is consistent with constitutional guarantees.

According to the new policy, a minor under the age of 21 who is not driving cannot be given a breath test unless it is authorized by a search warrant or court order; the minor consents to take the breath test; or police receive consent from a parent or guardian.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in June when the 13-year-old student was on a field trip to Livonia’s Rotary Park to celebrate his class’ graduation from Discovery Middle School in Canton. The student and his friends went into the woods for a short walk. When they returned, they were accused of drinking by the assistant principal who had followed them into the woods and found an empty liquor bottle on the ground. Despite the students’ assurances that they were not drinking and that the bottle the principal found did not belong to them, the principal called the police.

Upon their arrival, the police immediately began interrogating the teens. When the teens denied that they were drinking, the police forced them to take a breath test without their consent. The police did not attempt to notify the teens’ parents of the accusations or obtain a search warrant authorizing the breath tests as required by law. The teens each registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.00 percent proving that they had not been drinking.

This is not the first time the ACLU of Michigan has had to challenge the practice of forcing minors who are not driving to take breath tests without their consent or a search warrant. In 2002, the ACLU of Michigan successfully challenged a Bay City ordinance authorizing warrantless breath tests. Following this decision, the organization wrote letters to 425 university attorneys and municipalities, including Livonia, asking them to adopt new policies and practices that would conform to the court’s ruling.

In 2007, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU of Michigan again and threw out a similar state statute. Most recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals weighed in on a non-ACLU case declaring such searches unconstitutional.

In addition to Korobkin, the teen is represented by Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.

Click here to read the dismissal order
Click here to read “Under 21? Know Your Rights When Suspected of Drinking”
Click here to read the complaint in this case

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