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Supreme Court Rejects Warrantless Blood Test of DUI Suspect

U.S. law guarantees the right of the individual to be free from warrantless searches and seizures by police. Over the course of more than 200 years, the boundaries of that tenet have been tested, leading courts in Tennessee and at the federal level to weigh in on the issue.

One of the latest cases to get this particular examination dealt with the question of when police can conduct a warrantless draw of blood to test the blood alcohol content of a drunk driving suspect. And a ruling that came down this week from the U.S. Supreme Court appears to put some additional restrictions on authorities.

The gist of the decision, supported by five of the nine justices, declares that the issue has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. But the majority of the court said that because we live in a technological age of nearly instantaneous communication, getting a warrant is a lot easier for police. The suggestion seems to be that investigators owe it to the rights of the individual to do all they can to seek a warrant before deciding to collect blood from suspects.

The case stemmed from a police stop of a man Missouri. Authorities had pulled him over for speeding and suspected he had been driving drunk. Field sobriety tests were administered, which the man reportedly did poorly on. After being arrested, the man refused to submit to a breath test or a blood test, but police took him to a hospital and had blood drawn anyway and the test showed the man's BAC was over the legal limit.

Courts in Missouri suppressed the results, however, saying police should have gotten a warrant before taking the blood. They rejected police claims that they were simply trying to gather potential evidence before alcohol had left the man's system.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion affirms that the right of the individual against unwarranted government search and seizure takes precedence, especially in a time when technology makes getting a warrant so much easier than in the past.

Source: The New York Times, "Court Says Police Need Warrant for Blood Test," Adam Liptak, April 17, 2013

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