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

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“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.

Mr. Koester replied that if the court established the proposed new rule, more motorists would probably agree to a roadside breathalyzer test to avoid the needle and blood test.

In general, most searches are deemed reasonable after a police officer armed with probable cause to believe a crime has been committed obtains a court-authorized warrant justifying a search.

The Supreme Court has carved out an exception to the warrant requirement whenever police encounter exigent circumstances suggesting the imminent destruction of evidence.

For example, if police are outside a home and have probable cause to believe that drugs are about to be flushed down a toilet, they are authorized to enter the home without first obtaining a warrant.

The question at the high court is whether the same exception should apply to a blood-alcohol test.

Obtaining a warrant in the Missouri case would have taken anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, Koester said.

“Every minute counts,” Assistant Solicitor General Nicole Saharsky told the justices, while urging the court to approve the proposed new rule.

Several justices were openly skeptical.

Twenty-five states require police to obtain a warrant before drawing blood from a suspected drunken driver, the court was told.

Justice Anthony Kennedy observed that those states are apparently able to obtain warrants fast enough to continue to prosecute drunken drivers.

“Is there any showing that the conviction rate in those states is lower than in the states where the practice is to take the test without the warrant?” Justice Kennedy asked.

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