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Bay Area Criminal Defense Blog

Supreme Court Rules on Warrantless Blood Tests for DUI Cases

Posted by Lynn Gorelick | Jul 07, 2016 | 0 Comments

In California, if you are arrested for driving under the arrest, the police will ask you to submit to a breath or blood chemical test. If you refuse, you may lose your license for up to a year for a first-time DUI. Until a few years ago, the police could force you to give a blood sample against your will. However, the Supreme Court put a stop to most forced blood draws. Now, the Supreme Court has found that warrantless blood draws in DUI arrests are unconstitutional.

It is not often that DUI cases go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in the past few years, the Court has ruled on two DUI cases, over the issue of the 4th Amendment's protections against “unreasonable search and seizure.” In 2013, in the case of Missouri v. McNeely, the Court ruled that police must generally obtain a warrant before forcing a DUI suspect to give blood. The fact that alcohol naturally metabolizes over time is not enough to justify a warrantless blood draw.

However, with that decision, the Court left open the possibility that some exceptions might be available for "exigent circumstances." Some police departments treated felony DUI arrests as an exception, and would force a blood draw of suspects arrested in serious injury DUIs or fatal DUI accidents.

In the recent ruling of Birchfield v. North Dakota, the Court, by a 7 to 1 vote, held that warrantless blood tests of suspected drunk drivers are unconstitutional. Danny Birchfield accidentally drove his car off the highway in North Dakota. When a state trooper arrived, he smelled alcohol on Birchfield's breath and noted slurred speech, stumbling, and bloodshot and watery eyes. The man failed several field sobriety tests. He consented to a field breath test, which showed a BAC of 0.254%, more than three times the legal limit.

After Birchfield was arrested, the officer informed him of the state's implied consent laws and asked for a blood test. The suspect refused. He was prosecuted for violation of the refusal statute, but argued that the refusal to submit to a blood test was a violation of his 4th Amendment rights. The case eventually made it's way to the country's highest court.

In the majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., the Court found, “the impact of breath tests on privacy is slight, and the need for BAC testing is great. We reach a different conclusion with respect to blood tests. Blood tests are significantly more intrusive, and their reasonableness must be judged in light of the availa­bility of the less invasive alternative of a breath test.”

Just because you were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence does not mean you have to plead guilty. At the Gorelick Law Offices, attorney Lynn Gorelick has dedicated her legal career to defending drivers facing drugged driving charges in the East Bay. With over 30 years of DUI experience, Lynn Gorelick understands what it means to fight for you. Contact the local East Bay DUI defense attorney who will stand up for your rights, so you can keep your license to drive.

About the Author

Lynn Gorelick

Lynn Gorelick has been an attorney for 30 years. She is the Attorney Lynn Gorelick is the President of the California DUI Lawyers Association and a Faculty and Sustaining member of the National College of DUI Defense.

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