Supreme Court says warrantless blood tests are generally impermissible

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled on an important case that will affect the rights of those accused of drunk driving. The issue in the case was whether law enforcement officers may force drunk driving suspects to submit to a blood alcohol test against their will without first obtaining a warrant.

Background of case

The case originated when a Missouri man was pulled over for speeding. During the stop, the highway patrol officer found reason to believe that he was intoxicated. The officer asked the man to perform several types of field sobriety tests, which the man performed poorly.

Having failed the sobriety tests, the officer asked the man to submit to a breath test, which he refused. The officer then arrested the man, transported him to a clinic and asked a member of staff to draw the man's blood for an alcohol blood test, without first obtaining a warrant or the man's consent. The blood test found that the man had a blood alcohol level of almost twice the legal limit.

At trial, the prosecution was prohibited from presenting the results of the blood test, as the court ruled that since the officer did not obtain a warrant, the blood test violated the Fourth Amendment. This amendment protects suspects against unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.

The prosecution appealed the decision and argued that since alcohol is metabolized in the blood, there were "exigent circumstances" (an emergency situation) that allowed police to take the blood sample without a warrant. Had the officer waited for the warrant, the prosecution argued, evidence would have been destroyed, as the suspect's blood alcohol level would likely have fallen.

Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the police were not justified in taking a blood sample without the suspect's consent or a warrant. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the dissipation of alcohol in a suspect's bloodstream is not an "exigent circumstance" that would justify an exception to the warrant requirement in most cases. The court said that in some cases, a warrantless blood test may be reasonable, but that should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The court also noted that the delay caused by obtaining a warrant may cause some alcohol to dissipate in the blood. However, this delay is often minimized in this age of technology, where judges can be reached almost instantly through emails and other means.

The ruling strengthens the protection against searches and seizures, by limiting the power of law enforcement officers from conducting warrantless blood tests without an impartial judge's approval. The ruling also underscores the importance of protecting your rights, if you are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. If you are in this situation, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can prepare an effective defense and ensure that your rights are honored.