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Drunk driving: Supreme Court considers whether forced blood tests are OK

The case, which the Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday, pits the requirements of the Fourth Amendment against the need for effective enforcement of drunk-driving laws nationwide.

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US Supreme Court justices grappled on Wednesday with whether police should be permitted to force suspected drunken drivers to submit to a blood test without first obtaining the approval of a neutral judge.

At issue in the case is whether law enforcement officials should be allowed to bypass the usual warrant requirement because any delay in collecting a blood-alcohol sample would permit the ongoing destruction of evidence through metabolism.

John Koester, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson, Mo., urged the court to establish a new rule that would allow police to force suspected drunken drivers who refuse to submit to a roadside breathalyzer test to undergo a forced extraction of blood to conduct a blood-alcohol test.

The case, Missouri v. Tyler McNeely (11-1425), pits the requirements of the Fourth Amendment against the need for effective enforcement of drunken-driving laws nationwide.

In 2010, driving while intoxicated resulted in 10,228 deaths – roughly one every 52 minutes, according to the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

At its most basic, the Fourth Amendment requires that Americans be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“How can it be reasonable to forgo the Fourth Amendment in a procedure as intrusive as a needle going into somebody’s body?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.

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