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OWI blood-draw ruling means Wisconsin police will have to adjust

Prosecutors, judges and police in Wisconsin will have to make some adjustments after the recent Supreme Court ruling on warrantless blood draws in OWI cases. Wisconsin and 28 other states currently don't require a search warrant to draw blood from a person suspected of drunk driving. In effect, police have been able to forcibly administer a blood test without a driver's consent.

But the high court, in a 5-4 ruling, decided that police do not have such a right in every instance. Police should get a search warrant in cases in which "officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search," according to Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

In other words, police can still call a judge at any hour of the day to get a warrant for a blood draw, even when a suspected drunk driver is en route to jail. Still, the ruling does create a protection for people accused of OWI. Police can't simply guess that a person is under the influence, pull that person over and independently take a blood draw just to find out if the officer's hunch was correct. The ruling helps establish a line that police can't cross without violating a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights.

On a state level, what could happen in response to the Supreme Court's decision is an increase in penalties for refusing a chemical test. Blood-alcohol tests are crucial for prosecutors in OWI cases, and Wisconsin residents can expect that law enforcement officials will adjust to the federal decision and continue to make arrests.

Likewise, people accused of drunk driving should be aware of their rights in light of the high court's recent ruling.

Source: Journal Sentinel, "Supreme Court ruling on blood draws could have big impact on drunken driving cases," Bruce Vielmetti, April 17, 2013

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