Forced Breathalyzer Tests on Pedestrians Illegal Says Judge

A pedestrian who is under the age of 21 can be forced by police to submit to an alcohol breath test without a search warrant in Michigan on the mere suspicion that the person may have consumed any alcohol. Refusal to submit to the test can result in a $100 fine.

Several years ago, the U.S. District Court in Detroit held that it is illegal for police to enforce a municipal ordinance requiring pedestrians under age 21 to take a breath test for alcohol use or face a $100 fine. The ordinance is nearly identical to the state law.

The suit asserted that the law directly violates the U.S. Constitution by authorizing unwarranted searches of a person. The Court agreed, adding that “the right to be left alone in public places ranks high on the hierarchy of entitlements that citizens in a free society have come to expect at least in the context of citizen-police encounters.”

In spite of that ruling, cities and counties throughout Michigan have continued to enforce the state law. However, a judge has now ruled that the city of Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County must stop enforcing the law and pay two men who brought the suit $5,000 each.

“The Constitution is clear -- the police cannot violate the privacy rights of pedestrians by searching them without a court order,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael J. Steinberg. He added that he hopes other police departments “will stop punishing young people who are walking down the street for refusing a breathalyzer test.”

A lawyer has asserted that police throughout Michigan have for years been violating the rights of countless young people under the age of 21 by forcing them to submit to alcohol breath tests without cause.

Another related case against the city of Saginaw and Thomas Township has not yet been settled.

The state of Michigan and its attorney general’s office continue to defend the law.


  • Gray, Ian Patrick. City settles walking alcohol test suit. Morning Star, April 18, 2006.

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Filed Under: Breathalyzer