Supreme Court: Most Warrantless Blood Tests Unconstitutional

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Supreme Court: Most Warrantless Blood Tests Unconstitutional

If you are pulled over and the officer suspects you of drunk driving, can the officer force you to take a blood test without a warrant? This is the question that a recent United States Supreme Court ruling answered in a case that will affect the rights of those accused of drunk driving in Tennessee and across the nation.

Facts of the Case

The case arose out of Missouri. It began when a Missouri man was pulled over by a highway patrol officer for speeding. During the stop, the officer observed from the driver's slurred speech that he may be driving drunk. The officer asked the man to take a set of field sobriety tests, which he failed.

After the sobriety tests, the officer requested that the man take a breath test. However, the man refused. The officer then transported the man to an area hospital and ordered the staff to take a blood sample for testing. When the results of the blood alcohol test came back, it showed that the man's blood alcohol level was almost double the legal limit. The man was then arrested and charged with drunk driving.

At his trial, the driver's attorneys made a motion to suppress the results of the blood test, arguing that the failure of the officer to obtain a warrant for the test violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Prior caselaw had held that a warrant is necessary unless there are "exigent circumstances," or emergencies that would excuse the failure to get a warrant before the search. The driver argued that the there were no such circumstances in his case.

The state, on the other hand, argued that exigent circumstances existed. It argued that alcohol in the bloodstream is metabolized quickly, so they were justified in taking the blood sample before getting a warrant. If they had waited for a warrant, it argued, there would have been destruction of evidence. The Missouri Supreme Court ultimately sided with the driver, deciding that a warrant was required.

Supreme Court Decision

After an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court held, in a 5-4 decision, that a warrant is required to take a blood sample from drunk driving suspects in the majority of cases. In general, the metabolism of alcohol does not constitute an exigent circumstance, the court ruled.

The court noted that a warrantless blood test would be constitutionally permissible in some cases, such as when reliable evidence could not be preserved if the police had to wait for a warrant. However, the court said that question of whether a warrant is required should be determined on a case-by-case basis, based on the facts surrounding the case.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

Although the case strengthens the constitutional rights that DUI suspects have, it also illustrates the need to assert and protect your rights at the earliest possible moment. If you have been arrested for drunk driving, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are respected.