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05 Jul 2016

Supreme Court Rules Cops Need A Warrant For Blood Test After Drunk-Driving Arrest

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday clarified limits the Constitution places on police officers who seek to measure blood-alcohol level following a drunk-driving arrest.

In a fractured ruling that commanded a five-justice majority, the court said police officers need a warrant if they want to test the blood of a motorist who gets pulled over for driving under the influence, but not if they want to conduct a breath test under similar circumstances. The court issued the decision Thursday alongside major rulings on immigration and affirmative action.

The drunk-driving decision was prompted by three separate appeals — two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota — involving men who had been arrested for drunk driving and threatened with criminal penalties if they refused to submit to an alcohol test.

All three refused, were tested anyway — one via a breath test, two by getting their blood drawn — and found to be extremely drunk. And because of their refusal, all three were charged separately for declining the tests.

But the men appealed, arguing that criminalizing their refusal to submit to testing violated the Fourth Amendment, which generally prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Their respective state supreme courts didn’t buy it.

But the Supreme Court did agree with part of the argument, at least with respect to direct blood testing. Justice Samuel Alito explained that these tests “are significantly more intrusive” on privacy, so states cannot conduct them unless they obtain a warrant first.

Not so with breath tests. “The impact of breath tests on privacy is slight,” Alito explained, which means their use by police officers is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and thus exempt from the warrant requirement.

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