Alabama DUI Prosecution

Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor

Author: AlabamaTSRP

Traffic Stops & Identification

I have had a couple of different discussions about an individual’s requirement to produce identification during a traffic stop or at a checkpoint. This has been a growing trend throughout the Southeast and was the subject of a presentation at a conference I recently attended. The presentation was created by the Florida TSRP and uses Florida law, but I still think it is very relevant to what we discussed. The relevant Alabama law is as follows:

ALA Code 15-5-30: A sheriff or other officer acting as sheriff, his deputy or any constable, acting within their respective counties, any marshal, deputy marshal or policeman of any incorporated city or town within the limits of the county or any highway patrolman or state trooper may stop any person abroad in a public place whom he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed or is about to commit a felony or other public offense and may demand of him his name, address and an explanation of his actions.

ALA Code 32-5A-4: No person shall willfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of any police officer or fireman invested by law with authority to direct, control or regulate traffic.

ALA Code 32-6-9: (a) Every licensee shall have his or her license in his or her immediate possession at all times when driving a motor vehicle and shall display the same, upon demand of a judge of any court, a peace officer, or a state trooper. However, no person charged with violating this section shall be convicted if he or she produces in court or the office of the arresting officer a driver’s license theretofore issued to him or her and valid at the time of his or her arrest.
(b) For every person found in violation of this section or Section 32-6-1, a reasonable effort shall be made as soon as possible, but not later than within 48 hours, to determine the citizenship of the person and if an alien, whether the alien is lawfully present in the United States by verification with the federal government pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1373(c). An officer shall not attempt to independently make a final determination of whether an alien is lawfully present in the United States.

Sly v. State, 387 So.2d 913 (Ala. Crim. App. 1980)
A state trooper observed that a headlight on defendant’s automobile was defective. He pursued defendant for approximately one quarter of a mile with the blue light on his patrol car on before defendant stopped. The defendant refused to produce his driver’s license during the stop. The trooper stated that after defendant was arrested and on the way to the county jail, defendant stated that he did not stop because he thought that the trooper was a city police officer and that defendant had heard rumors that the city police were harassing the public. Defendant was charged and convicted of willfully failing or refusing to comply with a lawful order or direction of an officer invested by law with authority to direct, control, or regulate traffic. The prosecution was based on the failure of defendant to show the trooper his driver’s license. Defendant was convicted and the court affirmed. The court held that the trooper’s “request” to see defendant’s driver’s license constituted a lawful order and that observing a violation of the state traffic and vehicle safety regulations, the trooper had a statutory right to request and inspect defendant’s operating license. Further, defendant had a statutory duty to display the same.

Birchfield v. North Dakota

Alabama Law Enforcement Officers & Prosecutors,

On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its latest decision on impaired driving, Birchfield v. North Dakota[i]. The ultimate issue was the constitutionality of criminalizing chemical test refusals.  The Court consolidated and addressed three cases: Birchfield, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. Levi.  In Birchfield, the defendant was arrested, refused a blood test, and was charged with a violation of the refusal.  Similarly in Bernard, the defendant was arrested, refused a breath test, and was charged with a violation of the refusal.  Beylund, the defendant in the final case, actually submitted to a blood test after being given an advisory warning that there were criminal sanctions for refusal.

Justice Alito’s majority opinion established refusal laws serve a very important role in combating impaired driving, but the Court drew a distinction between breath tests and blood tests. The Court determined that there are far less privacy concerns with breath tests; therefore, while a breath test was a valid search incident to arrest, a blood test was not a valid search incident to arrest.  This determination allows for states to criminalize the refusal of a breath test, but not of a blood test.

Prosecutors, please note that this is a categorical exception and not subject to a case-by-case analysis. Breath tests are permissible based upon a valid arrest for impaired driving. This is the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has found breath testing valid as a search incident to arrest and the refusal of which can be criminally punished.  The Court also limited it’s ruling to criminal refus­al statutes, and left unchanged the civil or administrative license suspension consequences for refusal.  The constitutionality of implied consent statutes is reaffirmed by this Court stating, “prior opinions have referred approving­ly to the general concept of implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply . . . and nothing we say here should be read to cast doubt on them.”[ii] This approval includes the admissibility of the defendant’s refusal as evi­dence in the criminal case under Neville[iii].

The State of Alabama and our implied consent statute[iv] is within the constitutional bounds set by this opinion and should remain largely unaffected.  However, the Court did strongly emphasize a preference for blood draw warrants, absent situations that involve consent or the exigent circumstances exception to the search warrant requirement.  The Court mentions a scenario involving an unconscious driver and states “when they arise, the police may apply for a warrant if need be.”[v]  I encourage all law enforcement to obtain search warrants in these cases, if the situation will allow it.  Otherwise, we must follow the “totality of the circumstances” test given to us in McNeeley[vi] and be able to articulate the specific facts that led us to using the exigency exception.  Going forward, I do not believe we can strictly rely on the implied consent statute any longer.

If there are any questions or concerns about this information, or any traffic safety related issues, I am here to address your needs.  Please do not hesitate to contact me.  We all have the common goal to reduce the number of impaired drivers and fatalities on our state’s roads.  By working as a team, we can continue to make great strides toward this goal.


[i] Birchfield v. North Dakota, 2016 WL 3434398, ___ S. Ct. ___ (June 23, 2016).

[ii] Id. at 36

[iii] South Dakota v. Neville, 103 S. Ct. 916 (1983).

[iv] §32-5-192, Code of Alabama (1975)

[v] Birchfield at 35

[vi] Missouri v. McNeeley, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013)

Alabama District Attorneys Association


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