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Supreme Court rules on warrantless blood tests

There are many different tools and methods police use in their enforcement efforts against drunk driving. One tool police sometimes use in such efforts are blood tests to determine an individual's blood alcohol level. A question arose in connection to such tests: do police need a warrant to conduct such tests? In a recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court answered this question. The Supreme Court's answer to the question is that, in most circumstances, a warrant is required for police to conduct a blood test to determine an individual's blood alcohol level.

The case this decision was made in involved an incident that occurred in Missouri. Reportedly, after a man suspected of drunk driving was pulled over and refused a breath test, an officer brought the man to a hospital and ordered that blood be drawn from the man so that the man's blood alcohol level could be tested. Reportedly, the officer did not have a warrant.

The man who was subjected to this warrantless blood test argued that the officer needed a warrant to order the blood draw and thus that the test was invalid.

The state, on the other hand, argued that the officer did not need a warrant. The state based this claim on the argument that the fact that alcohol in a person's system dissipates over time creates an emergency situation in DUI cases that makes it okay to perform an unconsented blood test without a warrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state's argument and ruled in favor of the man. In its decision in this case, the Supreme Court said that the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not, on its own, constitute an emergency situation and thus that, barring special circumstances, blood tests to determine blood alcohol level require a warrant. Thus, under this decision, warrantless blood tests, in most circumstances, are a violation of an individual's constitutional rights.

This case shows how the U.S. Supreme Court will sometimes reach decisions clarifying what requirements police must meet when it comes to search/seizure actions.

In DUI cases, it can be very important to look closely at the details of any search/seizure action conducted by police to determine if police met the requirements for such actions. If police conducted an improper search/seizure action, the evidence that was obtained from the search/seizure could be thrown out.

Source: NPR, "Supreme Court Backs Warrants For Blood Tests In DUI Cases," Nina Totenberg, April 17, 2013

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