The Richmond Register

Local News

April 28, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court: Warrant needed for blood test in most cases

Similar issues have come up in Madison County courts

RICHMOND — A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on warrantless blood tests touched on Fourth Amendment issues brought up in a Madison County drunken driving case last year.

In the Missouri case taken up by the Supreme Court, a man stopped on suspicion of drunken driving refused Breathalyzer and blood tests. The police officer took him to a local medical facility and directed the staff to draw the man’s blood. The officer did not obtain a search warrant for the procedure.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, upheld a lower court’s ruling to throw out the blood test as evidence. The state of Missouri argued that any wait to obtain a warrant for a blood test in DUI cases would allow more time for the alcohol to dissipate from a suspect’s bloodstream, essentially causing a  loss of evidence.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, pointed out that “some delay between the time of arrest or accident and time of the test is inevitable regardless of whether a warrant is obtained.”

She added that today’s technology allows officers to obtain warrants from judges in a matter of minutes using tools such as email and text messaging, especially in DUI cases in which the evidence supporting probable cause is usually simple.

The court agreed there may be cases in which exigent circumstances will allow a warrantless blood draw, however, each case must be judged individually as to whether that is needed.

Ultimately, the court ruled that placing a needle into someone’s skin is an invasive search as defined by the U.S. Constitution.

“... Motorists’ diminished expectation of privacy does not diminish their privacy interest in preventing a government agent from piercing their skin,” Sotomayor wrote. “And though a blood test conducted in a medical setting by trained personnel is less intrusive that other bodily invasions, this Court has never retreated from its recognition that any compelled intrusion into the human body implicates significant, constitutionally protected privacy interests.”

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