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Drunk driving: Can blood-alcohol test be forced? Case reaches Supreme Court.

The justices will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of a drunk driver forced to submit to a blood test. State supreme courts are divided on whether that violates the Fourth Amendment.

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The US Supreme Court takes up a case on Wednesday that examines whether police must obtain a warrant from a neutral judge before forcibly extracting blood from a suspected drunk driver.

At issue is when police have the authority to force a motorist to submit to a blood test after the motorist refuses a breathalyzer test.

Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means before police invade a person’s privacy, they must demonstrate to a neutral judge that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. If the judge is convinced, a search warrant is issued.

That’s what happens in most cases. But the Supreme Court has ruled that under certain circumstances police are free to conduct a search without first obtaining a warrant.

The question in Wednesday’s case, Missouri v. McNeely (11-1425), is whether a state trooper violated motorist Tyler McNeely’s Fourth Amendment rights when the trooper ordered a hospital attendant to forcibly take a blood sample from a hand-cuffed Mr. McNeely to preserve evidence of his elevated blood-alcohol level.

The argument for allowing warrantless blood tests is centered on the fact that blood alcohol levels fall with time.

The Supreme Court is being asked to resolve a split among state supreme courts on the issue. The top courts in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oregon have all ruled that the rapid dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream is a sufficient exigency to justify a warrantless blood test.

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