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U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Warrantless Blood Tests

Friday Jul 15th, on DWI |

In drunk driving cases, blood tests can be powerful physical evidence for prosecutors. A prosecutor can introduce blood test results that show drugs or alcohol in a driver's system in order to help convince a jury to convict. 

However, in order for the test results to be admissible, the evidence must not have been obtained in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights. Whenever evidence is improperly obtained in cases, an Albany DWI defense attorney can help defendants argue to have that evidence suppressed. If the court determines the evidence should be suppressed, prosecutors cannot present the evidence to a jury to try to secure a conviction.

In recent years, states and law enforcement officials have been getting increasingly aggressive regarding the collection of blood test results and other scientific evidence in drunk driving cases. Defendants have challenged state actions that were seen as unconstitutional, and the courts have largely ruled in favor of providing more protection to drunk driving defendants. That being the case, those accused of impaired driving need to know about the court rulings that protect their rights.

Warrant is Required Unless Defendant Consents to Taking a Blood Test

The first major case in recent years to make it to the U. S. Supreme Court involved a situation where prosecutors argued that the police were justified in requiring a DWI defendant to take a blood test -- even without a warrant. The police and prosecutors argued the body was metabolizing the alcohol and destroying the evidence, thus creating exigent circumstances that would justify a warrantless blood test requirement.

The court, however, disagreed. The case was Missouri v. McNeely, and the court held that unless a defendant consented to take a blood test, police would have to get a warrant to compel testing.

After this ruling, states increasingly began to make it a criminal infraction to refuse a blood test if there was reasonable cause to suspect impairment. In 13 states, criminal penalties were imposed if a suspected drunk driver did not voluntarily consent to taking a blood test and/or a breath test as requested by police. This meant defendants who were asked to take blood test effectively had two choices: agree to the test (even without a warrant) or face criminal penalties. States were effectively coercing consent.

These laws were challenged in several states and the Supreme Court agreed to hear three cases, each of which were consolidated into one case known as Birchfield v. North Dakota.  In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers could require suspected drunk drivers to take a breathalyzer test without a warrant. A driver could face criminal penalties for refusing the breath test.

However, law enforcement could not require a blood test without a warrant.

The decision was based on the fact that a blood test is much more evasive than a breath test.  States cannot make it a crime to refuse a blood test and must get a warrant to compel this type of test.

The decision was an important one that protects the constitutional rights of suspected impaired drivers. If you were arrested for impaired driving, you should contact a knowledgeable DWI defense lawyer with The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC as soon as possible to determine if the police acted in accordance with the constitution during your traffic stop and learn whether or not you can keep the evidence they collected from being used against you if your rights were violated.

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