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Supreme Court weighs warrantless blood tests issued by police in drunk driving cases

Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 12:40am

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a case that could affect future drunk driving cases across the country.

The court is considering whether police need to get a warrant before ordering a blood test on a suspected drunk driver. About every 20 minutes in Texas, someone is hurt or killed in a crash involving alcohol..that's according to the Texas Department of Transportation. A new law took effect this past fall in El Paso to try and curb drunk driving. Police now enforce no refusal at all times.

"In El Paso, when we do our no refusal it's with a warrant so prior to us taking blood, we get an independent magistrate to review the facts of the case and get his or her authority on a search warrant," said Chris Mears, with the El Paso Police Department.

Other states have similar laws, but now the Supreme court is considering whether police are violating drivers' fourth amendment rights to privacy, if they obtain a non-consensual blood test without a getting a warrant first.

"The police will not always be as scrupulous as they need to be protecting privacy on the other side of the balance," said Steven Shapiro with the ACLU.

He argued on behalf of Tyler McNeely, the defendant who was forced to a warrantless blood test during a Missouri traffic stop in 2010. The state court upheld an order throwing out the blood test.

All 50 states have laws requiring those arrested on suspicion of drunk driving consent to a blood alcohol test. But lawyers for Missouri and the Obama administration don't think police should have to wait.

Many prosecutors agree.

"It's crucial for law enforcement to obtain the blood alcohol level in a timely fashion and evidence being destroyed every minute we wait," said Scott Burns, with the National District Attorneys Association.

Local El Pasoan Chet Woodward says if this passes nationwide, it will strip citizens of their rights.

"Let's change the whole constitution, you know lets change the constitution, lets just rewrite it," said Woodward.

The Supreme Court is likely to rule on the case by the summer. McNeely's license was suspended a year for refusing to consent to that blood test.


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