Suspected drunken drivers can have a legitimate psychological reason for not taking a test to measure their intoxication, the Montana Supreme Court said Thursday.
The court unanimously agreed that a Glendive motorist with an intense fear of needles could not be punished for refusing to take a blood test.
The decision overturned a lower-court order that Ricky Wessell lose his driver’s license for balking at the idea of a syringe taking a sample of his blood.
The case began when Wessell was arrested for possible drunken driving last November. He agreed to take an alcohol-breath test, but the machine malfunctioned twice.
When asked to take a blood test, Wessell said he had a great fear of needles and offered instead to take a urine test. The arresting officer refused the offer because the police department had no means of safeguarding the sample.
The officer then seized Wessell’s driver’s license.
Wessell contested the confiscation, which was upheld in district court.
Wessell argued the law does not require a motorist to submit to more than one intoxication test and, since he did agree to two tests, his license should not have been taken away.
The Supreme Court agreed, saying the law allows only one test be given and it was not Wessell’s fault that the breath-test machine broke down. The court also said the law recognizes that some people are unable to take certain intoxication tests.
In this case, Wessell’s psychological fear of needles was no different than a physical disability that could prevent someone from taking a breath, blood or urine test for alcohol, the justices said.
Wessell did not refuse to take an intoxication test as mandated by law; he was unable to take the only one available to him and should not lose his license for that, the court held.
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