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Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Forced Blood Tests for DUI Suspects

The Supreme Court today ruled in Missouri v. McNeely (opinion here) that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Sotomayor. There were two concurring and one dissenting opinions.

While the court didn't say a warrant was needed, it made clear officers shouldn't assume one is not needed. Scotus Blog explains: [More...]

The Sotomayor opinion stressed that getting a warrant should be the default protocol in drunk-driving cases where officers decide to have a blood test made. That opinion said that the mere fact that alcohol in the blood does dissipate over time is not enough, by itself, to do away totally with the requirement for a search warrant.

...That opinion also stressed that state and local governments have adopted a number of new procedures that make it easier, and faster, to get blood-test warrants, and that those procedures will help to assure that blood alcohol evidence does not disappear before a test could be made. “Our ruling will not severely hamper law enforcement,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

The lone dissenter who thinks a warrant should never be required: Clarence Thomas.

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    Well... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 04:14:18 PM EST
    ...at the Houston Cook-Off, held the day before the rodeo, they have an ambulance with a judge to take blood for suspected drunk drivers.  They park it right at the entry/exit with a little band of cops.

    I think it's more as a deterrent since the Cook-Off is nothing but a drunk fest.

    But for a DUI, is there a judge who would deny a warrant if a cop believes the person is intoxicated ?  I like that cops can't take blood without approval, but seems like that approval is probably a certainly.

    The only bonus might be lag time in getting approval, but the downside is that blood almost always registers higher than a breathalyzer.

    Clarence Thomas (none / 0) (#1)
    by cassandra1313 on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 06:24:18 PM EST
    From Wikipedia, "Clarence Thomas was born in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, a small, predominantly black community founded by freedmen after the American Civil War. When he was a child, the town lacked a sewage system and paved roads."
    I somehow doubt that such a town has immediate access to on-call judges to issue warrants.

    The majority of rural America has an assortment of town judges, many of whom are not lawyers.  It is not so easy to get immediate warrants under such circumstances.  I'm sure big cities have a judge arraigning people all night long who could issue a warrant at any time.  Not so in small towns.
    Most DWI offenders are serial offenders who are rarely caught.  The risk of a blood test is vanishingly small.  The risk of letting a DWI driver get off are clear if small.  

    BION, things have changed since 1948.... (none / 0) (#4)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 12:23:35 AM EST
    Then They Do it the Old Fashion Way... (none / 0) (#7)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 04:02:43 PM EST
    ...breathalyzer and/or road side test.

    Forcing someone to give blood isn't something that cops, especially the part time ones in small towns, should be doing without any over sight.

    Parent

    DDAs used to sign up for S/W duty in exchange (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 07:51:01 PM EST
    for comp. time.

    I suppose law enforcement could limit (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 07:52:37 PM EST
    A suspected DUI to. Choice between breathalyzer and urine sample.

    The alcoholic beverage lobby (none / 0) (#6)
    by Mr Natural on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:14:14 AM EST
    makes the NRA's efforts look pitiful in comparison.

    Parent
    This may be more telling (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:23:35 AM EST
    Than Sotomayor's opinion

    Because the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was necessary to make a majority for the requirement that each case be judged on its own facts, his separate opinion may have special importance for local governments and their police forces as they decided how to react to the new ruling.

    Justice Kennedy suggested that local officials still retain the authority to work out "rules and guidelines that give important, practical instruction to arresting officers," and that those kinds of rules might well allow blood testing without a warrant "in order to preserve the critical evidence" of blood alcohol content.    As further cases develop, Kennedy wrote, the Court itself might find it worthwhile "to provide more guidance than it undertakes to give today."

    His fifth vote supported this bare conclusion: "always dispensing with a warrant for a blood test when a driver is arrested for being under the influence of alcohol is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment."



    That's a good point (none / 0) (#9)
    by SeeATL on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 09:55:38 AM EST
    I don't think this is going to hurt any slam dunk DWI stops.  My only worry is that the breath test is going to become the norm.  

    My apologies (none / 0) (#10)
    by SeeATL on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 09:58:41 AM EST
    That was meant for Scott.  Way up at the top.