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State v. Birchfield

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 15, 2015

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Danny Birchfield, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Morton County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce B. Haskell, Judge.

Justin M. Balzer, Morton County Assistant State's Attorney, Mandan, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Danny L. Herbel, The Regency Business Center, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

Ken R. Sorenson, Office of Attorney General, Bismarck, N.D., for amicus curiae.

Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice.

OPINION

Page 303

McEvers, Justice.

[¶1] Danny Birchfield appeals from a criminal judgment entered on a conditional plea of guilty to class B misdemeanor refusal to submit to a chemical test in violation of N.D.C.C. § 39-08-01, reserving his right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss the charge on constitutional grounds. Because we conclude the criminal refusal statute does not violate Birchfield's rights under the Fourth Amendment or N.D. Const. art. I, § 8, we affirm the criminal judgment.

I

[¶2] On October 10, 2013, Birchfield drove into a ditch in Morton County. A highway patrol officer arrived at the scene, believed Birchfield was intoxicated, and asked Birchfield to perform field sobriety tests, which he failed. Birchfield took a preliminary breath test, which revealed a .254 percent alcohol concentration. The officer placed Birchfield under arrest and read him the implied consent advisory. Birchfield refused to consent to a chemical test.

[¶3] Birchfield was charged with refusal to submit to a chemical test in violation of N.D.C.C. § 39-08-01, a class B misdemeanor. Birchfield moved to dismiss the criminal charge, contending N.D.C.C. § 39-08-01, which criminalizes a refusal to submit to a chemical test, is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment and its state counterpart, N.D. Const. art. I, § 8. The district court concluded Birchfield's rights under these provisions were not violated by the criminal charge for refusing to consent to a chemical test. Birchfield conditionally pled guilty under N.D.R.Crim.P. 11(a)(2), reserving his right to appeal the court's order denying his motion to dismiss.

II

[¶4] Birchfield argues the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss because the criminal refusal statute is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment and N.D. Const. art. I, § 8, and as applied to him.

[¶5] Our standard for reviewing constitutional challenges to legislative enactments is well-established:

The determination whether a statute is unconstitutional is a question of law, which is fully reviewable on appeal. All regularly enacted statutes carry a strong presumption of constitutionality,

Page 304

which is conclusive unless the party challenging the statute clearly demonstrates that it contravenes the state or federal constitution. Any doubt about a statute's constitutionality must, when possible, be resolved in favor of its validity. The power to declare a legislative act unconstitutional is one of the highest functions of the courts, and that power must be exercised with great restraint. The presumption of constitutionality is so strong that a statute will not be declared unconstitutional unless its invalidity is, in the court's judgment, beyond a reasonable doubt. The party challenging the constitutionality of a statute has the burden of proving its constitutional infirmity.

Simons v. State, 2011 ND 190, ¶ 23, 803 N.W.2d 587 (internal citations omitted).

[¶6] Driving is a privilege, not a constitutional right and is subject to reasonable control by the State under its police power. See, e.g., State v. Smith, 2014 ND 152, ¶ 8, 849 N.W.2d 599; McCoy v. North Dakota Dep't of Transp., 2014 ND 119, ¶ 26, 848 N.W.2d 659. Under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-01(1), an individual who drives " is deemed to have given consent, and shall consent, subject to the provisions of this chapter, to a chemical test . . . ." A chemical test may be administered " only after placing the individual . . . under arrest." N.D.C.C. § 39-20-01(2). However, a driver has a right to refuse a chemical test under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-04(1), which provides, " If a person refuses to submit to testing under section 39-20-01 . .., none may be given." See State v. Fetch, 2014 ND 195, ¶ 8, 855 N.W.2d 389.

[¶7] The criminal refusal provision is contained in N.D.C.C. § 39-08-01, which provides in relevant part:

1. A person may not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle upon a highway or upon public or private areas to which the public has a right of access for vehicular ...

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