The United States Supreme Court ruled this week on a case that could change the way state and local police handle suspected drunk drivers. The case is not from North Carolina, but a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court must be followed in all states — usually. At times, the court’s decision is so fact-specific that the ruling does not apply to all similar cases. That may be true in this instance.
A state trooper initially pulled the defendant over for speeding. The officer suspected the defendant had been drinking and administered a battery of field sobriety tests. The defendant failed. When the defendant refused to submit to a breath test, the officer drove to a hospital and ordered a blood test, in spite of the defendant’s refusal to consent to the test.
The defendant argued that the blood test was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The officer, the defendant said, needed a warrant before he could order the blood draw.
The police argued that the delay would seriously undermine their ability to prosecute the offender. In the time it would take to apply for a warrant and to have that warrant signed by a judge — in the early morning hours — any alcohol in the defendant’s bloodstream would dissipate. Time was of the essence in this case, and the interests of justice should be sufficiently compelling to overcome the warrant requirement.
Maybe yes, maybe no, the court said. So how should North Carolina state troopers respond to the ruling? We’ll get into that in our next post.
Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, “Supreme Court rules warrants usually needed for blood tests,” Lawrence Hurley, April 17, 2013
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