Drunk drivers caught a big break recently with a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that police must first go to the trouble of getting a warrant before they can draw blood from someone suspected of a DUI.
Our South Bay car accident attorneys are troubled by the ruling in this case, Missouri v. McNeely. Certainly, we understand that due process must be given to each defendant in order to uphold the principals of our criminal justice system. However, the presence of alcohol in a driver’s blood stream is a unique form of evidence that we feel should be given special consideration by the courts.
The reasoning is this:
Let’s say police want to search a person’s home for a weapon used in a crime. Officers can secure the perimeter until the warrant is obtained in order to ensure that no evidence is destroyed while the process of getting that judge’s signature is underway.
However, alcohol is different because it dissipates quickly from the body. The liver is in effect serving to destroy evidence by the minute. That means time is a critical element in these cases. Most DUIs occur at night, when agencies may only have one or two judges or magistrates on call to approve the request. That means it could take more time. The more time it takes, the less alcohol is going to be in a person’s system.
As the defendant had argued in this case, officers do have the option of conducting a breathalyzer test. Sure, but no one can force you to get a breathalyzer the way they can a blood test. In the a breathalyzer, the individual must be cooperative in breathing into the machine in order for the test to work. With a blood test, the person need not even be conscious.
There are penalties for those who refuse breathalyzer tests, but the person could still walk away without a DUI conviction after refusing one.
Not only is this kind of evidence important for the criminal prosecution of the defendant, it’s also important in the civil case. The time elapsed in getting a warrant for that blood test could mean the difference between a person’s results being over the 0.08 percent legal threshold for driving under the influence.
The one saving grace regarding the decision was the concession that if an officer was able to “reasonably conclude” that there is not sufficient time to seek and receive a warrant or if he applies for one but fails to receive a response before blood can be drawn, then the officer may proceed with a warrantless blood draw.
However, even that concession was sharply criticized by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who had agreed with the outcome, but said the vagueness was flawed. Specifically, he said a police officer reading the court’s opinion would have “no idea – no idea – what the Fourth Amendment requires of him…”
That means that in cases where officers use their best judgement to proceed in obtaining a blood draw without a warrant, that decision is going to be aggressively fought by defense lawyers in these cases – both in the criminal and civil courts – who will be seeking a suppression of evidence.
If you are victim of a drunk driving accident in South Bay, you will need an experienced injury lawyer on your side.
Call Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Supreme Court rules against police in drunk driving case, April 17, 2013, By Bill Mears, CNN
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