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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Nixes Challenge to NYPD Breathalyzer Test

(CN) - The New York Police Department can require officers who injure or kill someone by firing their weapons to take a breathalyzer test, the 2nd Circuit ruled. The court tossed a challenge by NYPD union representatives, who claimed the test was unconstitutional.

The policy was implemented in 2006, after NYPD officers in Queens shot and killed a man named Sean Bell, prompting widespread public criticism.

The breathalyzer policy applies when any officer, "on duty or off, is involved in a firearms discharge within New York City which results in injury to or death of a person."

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of New York and its president, Patrick Lynch, said the policy constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They moved to enjoin its enforcement.

The district court refused, saying the policy withstood Fourth Amendment scrutiny under the so-called "special needs" doctrine, which allows "suspicionless searches" if the state has a special needs interest, unrelated to law enforcement, which would trump an individual's privacy interests.

Union representatives argued that the doctrine doesn't apply, because the breathalyzer policy is directly related to law enforcement: it was adopted to control crime.

The federal appeals court in Manhattan disagreed, saying crime control wasn't the policy's primary purpose. It also serves as a deterrent for officers with alcohol problems, boosts the NYPD's reputation and helps the department investigate officer-related gun crimes, the court noted.

"[E]ven if crime control is one purpose of a program of searches, the program may nevertheless be reasonable under the special needs doctrine so long as crime control is not the program's primary purpose," the court wrote (original emphasis).

The three-judge panel concluded that "the special needs asserted by the NYPD outweigh the privacy interest advanced by plaintiffs."

It upheld the lower court's denial of the plaintiffs' bid for an injunction.

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