The U.S Supreme Court ruled April 17 that police officers must obtain a warrant before taking a blood sample from a person suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol against his or her will. The decision, stemming from a Missouri case that we discussed in January, is likely to have far reaching effects, including in Florida.
"The fact that alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream over time does not by itself give the police the right to draw blood without a warrant in drunken-driving investigations," the New York Times' Adam Liptak explained, reporting on the decision. Specifically, Justice Sonia Sotamayor explained in an opinion rendering the court's decision that whether it is reasonable for an officer to take a blood sample in any particular case "must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances."
The latest decision updates an important issue in DUI cases to reflect drastic technology enhancements since the Supreme Court ruled almost 47 years ago in Schmerber v. California that officers properly extracted blood without a warrant from a suspected drunk driver in an accident that caused injury to both the driver and another person. In that case, the high court noted not only the fact that blood alcohol levels naturally fall over time (making it difficult get an accurate read of a person's intoxication level if the test is performed several hours later), but also the typically long waits necessary to obtain a warrant.
In the latest decision, the court observed that technological developments have made it much easier for officers to get a warrant quickly via email. Thirty states currently use an electronic warranting system, according to the Times.
The case worked its way all the way up from a state trial court decision in which the judge threw out a blood test taken from a driver who police said appeared to be intoxicated after they pulled him over for erratic driving. Taken without the driver's consent, the test showed that his blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit. Nevertheless, a state appellate court upheld the ruling, saying that there were no "exigent circumstances" to support the cops' failure to obtain a warrant.