Miss Montana Jennifer Hepner's DUI Case: Implied Consent Law and License Suspension
The current Miss Montana, Jennifer Hepner, has pled not guilty in a DUI case stemming from a traffic stop in January of 2009, according to the AP. Since that time she has been suspended from her pageant duties, but gets to keep her tiara until the next Miss Montana comes around.
The AP gave the following background regarding Hepner's traffic stop and resulting charges:
"The 23-year-old University of Montana graduate student had been pulled over Jan. 3 and refused to submit to alcohol screening, breath or blood tests. Her license was seized and suspended.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Wednesday that Hepner has pleaded not guilty. She is also fighting the license suspension.
Her lawyer says her requests to speak with an attorney during the traffic stop were denied."
Noteably, however, Montana has implied consent DUI laws. As a result, anyone who drives in the state gives permission to police to conduct a preliminary alcohol screening test of their breath for alcohol concentration, so long as an officer has "a particularized suspicion" that they were driving while under the influence. Even though the driver actually does have a right to refuse this preliminary test, the consequence is a driver's license suspension. Also, a similar implied consent rule applies in Montana for blood and breath tests after a person has been arrested. The arrestee can still refuse to be tested, but this will result in automatic license suspension penalties.
Finally, although the circumstances of Miss Montana's case are unclear, it should be noted that someone's constitutional right to counsel doesn't stretch to the point that someone can demand an attorney and refuse to answer any and all questions during a simple traffic stop. Police are permitted to ask basic questions during a stop regarding a driver's identity and requisite documentation. Indeed, a refusal to answer those questions can be grounds for an arrest, in the first place. On the other hand, individuals are allowed to refuse to answer other questions without an attorney present.
- AP: Miss Montana pleads not guilty to DUI charge (Google News)
- Montana DUI Laws (Montana Code Annotated)
- DUI FAQ (provided by the Law Offices of Basil D. Beck, III)
- Police Questioning: When Miranda Warnings Are Required (FindLaw)
- Your Rights: The Right to Counsel (FindLaw)