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U.S. Supreme Court to rule on blood tests in DUIs

When law enforcement officers stop a driver on suspicion of driving under the influence, the driver has the right to refuse field sobriety tests. This can sometimes result in the police requiring that the driver submit to blood-alcohol tests to determine drunkenness or sobriety. Now the United States Supreme Court may rule that drivers can refuse such blood testing in the absence of a search warrant.

Although the case in question is centered on an arrest in another state, Sheboygan readers should know that the implications of this decision for Wisconsin and other states could be far-reaching. The case, which went in front of the justices on Jan. 9, involves a suspect who refused to submit to blood-alcohol testing. Police took the suspect to a local hospital, where his blood was collected while he was in handcuffs.

A lower Missouri court had thrown the blood test out. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld that action and found that the test constituted an act of unreasonable search and seizure, which is prohibited under the Constitution.

Those opposed to the practice of obtaining a search warrant prior to collecting a blood sample argue that the delay in testing the blood-alcohol level of a suspect gives the alcohol time to dissipate. The high court has been asked to determine whether law enforcement should have a right to compel a suspect to give a blood sample without the prior consent of a judge. A verdict is expected this year.

Blood-alcohol content tests can become a vital piece of evidence for the prosecution in DUI cases. If the Supreme Court rules that the blood testing is not permissible without a warrant, there can be lasting repercussions for those who are facing serious penalties following a DUI arrest. Those who are accused of DUI should be fully informed about their rights, including their right to refuse giving a blood sample.

Source: Thenorthwestern.com, "Court wary of warrantless blood tests in DUI cases," Mark Sherman, Jan. 9, 2013

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