Drunk Driving and the Supreme Court: Should Blood Tests Require Warrants?

Thirty-two states have filed a brief supporting Missouri and urging the Supreme Court to adopt a rule allowing warrantless blood draws in every drunk-driving investigation.

"The States' interest in fairly and accurately determining guilt or innocence for this serious crime outweighs an individuals' interest in avoiding the slight intrusion involved in halting that evidence destruction by obtaining a blood sample," they write in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The ACLU is representing McNeely in the case and it argues that the Supreme Court should not adopt a general rule without consideration for specific circumstances in every case.

"The issue in this case is whether the police can compel a warrantless blood test in every DWI case," writes Steven R. Shapiro of the ACLU in court papers.

Shapiro notes that different states have different procedures for obtaining search warrants and that it has become common for some states to permit telephonic warrant applications.

He argues that whether a warrantless blood test is unreasonable should be determined based on the totality of the circumstances that include: whether there was anything that delayed the officers at the arrest scene, whether there was more than one officer at the scene, how far police have to travel to a hospital, and how long it typically takes to obtain a warrant in that jurisdiction.

Shapiro writes that Missouri "overstates the need for warrantless blood tests, and understates the affront to personal privacy and dignity when the States override an individual's objection and sticks a needle in his arm."

Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) want the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court, which they say, "threatens to hamper enforcement efforts against drunk drivers -- and, as a result, could lead to more drunk driving and more tragic loss of life."

The group notes that in 2010, 10,228 people died as a result of drunk driving.

"Any delay in obtaining a blood alcohol content (BAC) reading not only risks the destruction of evidence that can never be recovered, but also opens a window that defendants can use to poke holes in a prosecution," MADD said in a court brief in support of Missouri.

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