Supreme Court Backs Warrants For Blood Tests In DUI Cases | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Supreme Court Backs Warrants For Blood Tests In DUI Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police must generally obtain a warrant before subjecting a drunken-driving suspect to a blood test. The vote was 8-to-1, with Justice Clarence Thomas the lone dissenter.

Tyler McNeely was pulled over late at night after a state trooper observed him driving erratically. When McNeely refused to take a Breathalyzer test, the officer drove him to a local hospital and ordered blood drawn for an alcohol test. The officer did not seek a warrant, even though he had done so in previous cases. The state of Missouri contended that because alcohol naturally dissipates in the bloodstream, each passing moment means valuable evidence is being lost, and so a warrant is never required for a blood draw.

The Supreme Court disagreed, noting that in most circumstances there is adequate time to get a warrant. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said that in the modern world of technology, police can often obtain a warrant quickly by using their cellphones or by email, and that in most jurisdictions a magistrate is available at all hours to grant a warrant request.

If an emergency requires officers to dispense with the warrant requirement, Sotomayor said, that determination must be made on a "case-by-case" basis and later justified in court. In addition, she noted, because officers must typically take a suspect to a hospital for the blood draw, some delay and some dissipation of alcohol is "inevitable."

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, wrote separately, agreeing in part with the majority but taking a different approach. They said that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood does not necessarily justify forgoing a warrant, but said that law enforcement officials need clearer rules and guidelines for when they are out in the field. They would have given the law enforcement officer greater discretion.

In dissent, Justice Thomas agreed with Missouri that the natural dissipation of blood alcohol constitutes an emergency that exempts law enforcement officers from the general requirement of a warrant.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Welcome To Braggsville' Isn't Quite 'Invisible Man,' But It's Close

T. Geronimo Johnson's latest follows four Berkeley students who take an American history class that leads to disaster. It's an ambitious book about race that wants to say something big about America.
NPR

Why Shark Finning Bans Aren't Keeping Sharks Off The Plate (Yet)

Fewer shark fins are being imported into Hong Kong, the epicenter of shark-fin soup, a culinary delicacy. But while the trade in shark fins may be down, the trade in shark meat is still going strong.
NPR

Peace Corps Teams Up With First Lady To 'Let Girls Learn'

The Peace Corp will recruit and train about 650 additional volunteers to focus on girls' education around the world. The expansion is part of a larger program launched by Michelle Obama Tuesday.
NPR

Internet Memes And 'The Right To Be Forgotten'

Becoming Internet-famous is a gold mine for some, a nightmare for others. The world of memes can pit free speech against the desire for privacy. And laws generally aren't keeping up, an expert says.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.