Warrantless Blood Test Case
Warrantless Blood Test Case Waits For U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision
A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court could have a large impact on state laws relating to drunk driving. Many states, including Massachusetts, have what is known as an implied consent law. This law basically gives law enforcement the right to use blood tests or some other kind of test to determine drivers’ blood alcohol content. The reasoning behind the law is that drivers have given their consent simply by obtaining a driver’s license.
Under current law, if a person in Massachusetts refuses to consent to a blood alcohol test, then his or her license can be immediately taken by the law enforcement officer and the car can be impounded. Drivers cannot, however, be forced to take a blood test.
The Supreme Court backed up Massachusetts’ position on this issue when it recently decided that law enforcement officers who wish to obtain a blood sample from a DWI suspect must obtain a warrant first.
Warrantless Blood Test
The case concerned a DUI suspect who claimed his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was subjected to a blood draw without a warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union and the man’s defense attorneys argued that sticking a needle into a person’s arm is an unnecessary intrusion into a suspect’s privacy, while attorneys representing the state pointed out that delays in getting a warrant for a blood test could affect the very result of the test and the case. They noted that the body metabolizes alcohol quickly, and therefore evidence could dissipate by the time a warrant is secured.
The case began in 2010 when the man refused to take a blood test after being pulled over for speeding. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on certiorari since there was significant disagreement amongst the states regarding whether blood alcohol evidence pulled from a blood test is valid if obtained without a warrant.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens and residents of the United States from illegal search and seizure. It is made applicable to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Today, the Fourth Amendment generally requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant from a judge before they can enter into any kind of home or business. Investigators can usually use one or more of the following to get a search warrant:
- Surveillance of a suspected person
- A telephone conversation
- An informant
- Evidence or facts that points to the commission of a crime
Whatever type of evidence is used, law enforcement needs to show that there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime is being committed. In the context of a DWI arrest, this could include evidence such as slurred speech, failed sobriety tests, erratic driving behavior or the smell of alcohol on the suspect’s breath.
The Impact Of The Decision
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling will likely have a far-reaching impact. States that did not require warrants will now have to change the way they handle DWI arrests. In Massachusetts and other states that already required warrants, suspects will be protected from future incursions into their rights.