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Supreme Court Examines Whether Blood-Alcohol Tests Can Be Forced

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by Publius
Posted January 09, 2013, 9:59 AM

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The US Supreme Court takes up a case on Wednesday that examines whether police must obtain a warrant from a neutral judge before forcibly extracting blood from a suspected drunk driver.

At issue is when police have the authority to force a motorist to submit to a blood test after the motorist refuses a breathalyzer test.

Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means before police invade a person’s privacy, they must demonstrate to a neutral judge that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. If the judge is convinced, a search warrant is issued.

That’s what happens in most cases. But the Supreme Court has ruled that under certain circumstances police are free to conduct a search without first obtaining a warrant.

The question in Wednesday’s case, Missouri v. McNeely (11-1425), is whether a state trooper violated motorist Tyler McNeely’s Fourth Amendment rights when the trooper ordered a hospital attendant to forcibly take a blood sample from a hand-cuffed Mr. McNeely to preserve evidence of his elevated blood-alcohol level.

The argument for allowing warrantless blood tests is centered on the fact that blood alcohol levels fall with time.

The Supreme Court is being asked to resolve a split among state supreme courts on the issue. The top courts in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oregon have all ruled that the rapid dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream is a sufficient exigency to justify a warrantless blood test.

In contrast, state high courts in Iowa, Utah, and Missouri have ruled that dissipation does not excuse police from obtaining a warrant before conducting an involuntary blood test.

The Obama administration and attorneys general from 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam are urging the Supreme Court to declare that warrantless blood tests do not violate the Fourth Amendment.

 

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