After a drunk driving arrest, one of law enforcement’s major concerns is securing evidence of the driver’s blood alcohol content. In doing so, they must balance the need to collect evidence against the suspect’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
The U.S. Supreme Court restricted police officer’s ability to collect evidence this month, when it issued a ruling holding that police must obtain a valid search warrant before they attempt to collect a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver who has not given consent to the search.
The case originated from an arrest in Missouri. A man was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving and failed a roadside sobriety test. When police asked the man to take a breathalyzer test, he refused. The officer then transported the man to a local hospital, where a blood sample was taken against his will.
In defense of the officer’s actions, the state of Missouri argued that warrants should not be required because evidence of blood alcohol content dissipates so quickly. By the time a warrant is issued, it argued, a suspect’s body may have metabolized enough alcohol to bring his or her blood alcohol content below the legal limit.
The Supreme Court was not swayed by this argument, however. In her majority opinion, Justice Sonya Sotomayor noted that cellphones and email make it very easy to obtain a warrant quickly. In emergency situations, police could move forward without a warrant and then attempt to justify their actions in court later.
Only Justice Thomas dissented. He said he believed that the natural dissipation of alcohol gave police the authority to conduct a search without a warrant.
Source: National Public Radio, “Supreme Court Backs Warrants for Blood Tests in DUI Cases,” Nina Totenberg, April 17, 2013
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