U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Forced DUI Blood Tests

by ShelbyW on April 23, 2013

Driving under the influence is a bad decision that can lead to even worse consequences. Since most DUI cases depend on some measure of self-criminalization on the part of a defendant, numerous issues have arisen on the constitutionality of several factors of DUI convictions. Random police checkpoints were once in question, but their constitutionality was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whether or not suspected drunk drivers can be forced to take a blood test was the more recent constitutional question, but as of April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court has ruled on that as well.

How Blood Tests hit the National Stage

The Supreme Court ended up taking on the case of whether or not authorities could force a suspect to submit to blood alcohol test without a warrant after the Missouri Supreme Court found the act unconstitutional. The issue arose in Missouri when, in 2010, a man was pulled over and suspected of DUI. The man refused to take a breathalyzer and was subsequently arrested. On the way to jail, the police officer stopped at a hospital to get a blood sample. When the suspect refused, the officer had doctors perform one anyway.

Prosecutors in Missouri, however, refused to let the buck stop at their own supreme court, and this is why appeals landed in front of United States justices. Attorneys for the state of Missouri argued that due to the dissipation of alcohol that occurs in a person’s body, officers should be able to take a blood sample without a search warrant. They argued that this was necessary to preserve evidence.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ended up siding with the Missouri Supreme Court rather than with the state. They concluded that when there is time to obtain a search warrant, the officer must do so before having a blood sample drawn. Justice Sotomayor stated that the natural dissipation of alcohol that occurs in a person’s blood stream isn’t sufficient cause to throw the requirement of a warrant out of the window.

It’s important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean suspected drunk drivers can just deny all alcohol related tests in an effort to avoid prosecution. The Justices stated that if a delay is anticipated which actually could result in destroyed evidence (dissipation of alcohol), it may be justified for a warrantless blood draw to occur. This means that the Supreme Court said an officer must get a warrant for a blood draw unless a serious delay is anticipated.

Other Considerations of Blood Tests

The website of a well-known Orlando DUI Law Firm states that: “As a general rule, blood-testing gives the most accurate results, but it is certainly not foolproof.” Neglectful technicians, for instance, can easily cause an inaccurate blood alcohol content (BAC) result. By sterilizing the draw site with alcohol, not using the right amount of preservatives or anticoagulants in the sample, not storing the sample properly or not maintaining a proper chain of custody; a technician can contaminate or make a sample invalid as evidence.

There’s no doubt that DUI prosecutions and evidence collection often lie in a gray area of the criminal justice system and constitutionality. This is why it’s not uncommon for a case related to the crime to make it all of the way to the Highest Court in the Land. The Court’s ruling may not be a steadfast protection of a suspect’s rights, but it did deal a decisive blow to police officers wishing to always ignore the rules of evidence.

Researcher Shelby Warden posts articles to raise awareness of our legal rights in the U.S. The Orlando DUI Law Firm of Katz & Phillips, P.A. has successfully defended clients against Florida DUI charges for many years. They know all the ways in which the state’s case might be wrong and will investigate every aspect of their client’s charges to get them acquitted.

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