The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

SCOTUS: Forced Blood Tests on DUI Suspects Need Warrant

What a difference a day makes. For DUI suspects across the country, the lyrics never rang truer. Not too long ago, we discussed the possibility of forced blood draws of DUI suspects and how it's probably a bad idea to refuse a test. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States came out with a decision saying otherwise.

The justices held that people suspected of drunk driving can't be automatically forced into taking blood tests without a warrant and without their consent.

Justice Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion in the case, with Justices Scalia, Ginsburg and Kagan joining her. At the core of the decision is the requirement of police to follow the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement when drawing blood from suspected drunk drivers.

The decision limits the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made an exception to the warrant requirement for DUI-related blood tests. The court’s rationale was that blood-alcohol content evidence is time-sensitive — officers can’t spare the time to get a warrant given how quickly alcohol dissipates in the bloodstream.

Doing away with that line of reasoning, Sotomayor wrote in the decision that the natural metabolization of alcohol doesn’t justify an automatic exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Instead, the need for a warrant will be decided case by case based on the totality of the circumstances, Sotomayor wrote.

On the flip side, the ruling is narrower than it could’ve been. The decision doesn’t declare a categorical rule that police always need a warrant.

Chief Justice Roberts called for an opinion with more guidance, saying “A police officer reading this court’s opinion would have no idea — no idea — what the Fourth Amendment requires of him.” But Roberts went on to say that drunk driving cases often have typical circumstances, so the court should be able to offer guidance on how police handle blood testing cases like this one.

Similarly, Justice Kennedy stressed the need for guidance to police officers. In his concurrence, Kennedy wrote that states should be able to take out the guesswork for officers by adopting rules and procedures that satisfy the Fourth Amendment in blood draw cases.

For your purposes, know that in many cases, police officers will now need a warrant before forcing a driver to submit to a blood alcohol test.

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