Supreme Court considering when police can take DWI suspects’ blood

When a person is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, one of law enforcement’s primary concerns is obtaining evidence that will prove intoxication. In some cases, they are able to get this evidence when the accused person voluntarily submits to a breathalyzer test.

If the suspect does not consent to a breath test — a decision he or she has every right to make — the issue becomes much more complicated. The Supreme Court of the United States is currently considering a case that will determine whether police officers are allowed to perform warrantless blood tests on suspected drunk drivers who refuse to submit to breathalyzer tests.

Case pits evidence vs. privacy

The case arose out of a 2010 traffic stop in rural Missouri. After being pulled over, the suspect failed a field sobriety test. When he refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, the arresting officer transported him to a hospital for a blood test. Although the suspect did not consent to the blood test, the officer ordered a sample taken, even though he had not obtained a warrant. The test revealed that the suspect’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit.

The suspect challenged the evidence, arguing that a warrantless blood test violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The police, on the other hand, argued that a warrantless blood test was necessary because of how quickly the evidence in a DWI case can dissipate. By the time a judge issues a warrant, the suspect’s body may have metabolized enough alcohol to put his or her blood alcohol content below the limit.

The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the suspect, ruling that warrantless blood tests in drunk driving cases are unconstitutional. Missouri prosecutors disagreed, and appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Impact on Maryland drunk driving cases

The U.S. Supreme Court is not expected to issue its ruling in the case until later this spring. However, during oral arguments, the justices appeared reluctant to give police such broad authority to intrude into a suspect’s privacy. Putting a needle into a restrained person’s arm, they noted, is an incredibly intrusive act. The justices seemed skeptical about allowing this behavior in cases where a judge has not reviewed the facts to determine whether a search is reasonable.

While the case originated in Missouri, the Supreme Court’s ruling will have nationwide impact. It will likely be of particular importance to Maryland residents because, unlike many states, Maryland does not have a state statute that specifically prohibits police officers from obtaining warrantless blood samples in drunk driving cases.

Of course, it is important to remember that this is only one of the many constitutional issues that can arise after a person is pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. If you have been arrested for DWI or DUI, talk to a Maryland criminal defense attorney who can help make sure your rights are protected.

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