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Tennessee Senate action slated on electronic search warrant bill

Donating blood is a good thing. It saves lives. However, the benefits of volunteering to give blood don't necessarily extend to circumstances in which police seek to get a sample of blood to bolster a charge of driving under the influence against a suspect.

Anyone confronted with the decision about whether to submit to a test should seek to protect their rights by contacting an attorney. Questions that deserve to be asked include whether the authorities have a search warrant signed in ink by a judge to collect a blood sample.

This issue has become particularly important since a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. 

That decision declared that taking blood without a valid search warrant or some sort of exigent circumstances violates constitutional guarantees against unlawful search and seizure.

Current law in Tennessee requires police to meet face-to-face with a judge or magistrate to get a search warrant. Authorities complain that in cases of DUI, that process can take hours -- during which time potential evidence is getting cleared out of a suspect's body.

But that could be changing soon. Tennessee's General Assembly is considering legislation that would make it possible for police to obtain search warrants electronically. The provisions of the measure, as summarized on the website for the General Assembly, would allow police to get warrants by phone or other reliable electronic channel. The measure has already passed the House and is on the agenda for Senate action tomorrow.

The measure is not without its opponents. Some members of the Senate suggest the system in place works fine. But supporters say the intent is to bring Tennessee into the 21st century. Prosecutors who support the bill say it will also cut the time it takes to get a warrant by about a third.

Source: Kingsport Times News, "Bill would allow judge to issue search warrant by telephone," Hank Hayes, Feb. 28, 2014

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