A Closer Look at Warrantless Searches

Posted on Jan 27, 2016 in DUI/DWI

If you get pulled over by the police and they suspect that you are drunk, you can be asked to take a blood test in order to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, you are not supposed to be subject to a warrantless blood test without your consent.

The problem is this – there are many state laws and police actions that may be resulting in defendants throughout the United States essentially being forced to give coerced consent. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States has now agreed to rule on whether the actions that the states are taking are constitutional or a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

If you are pulled over and arrested for impaired driving, you need to make sure you get the full protections granted by the Constitution. If you are subject to a warrantless search, you should be able to prevent the prosecutor from making use of illegally-obtained evidence in an effort to secure a conviction. A New Orleans DWI lawyer should be consulted so he or she can help you determine if a search was legal, as well as petition the court to suppress any evidence obtained (if it wasn’t).

Supreme Court to Address Warrantless DWI Blood Tests — Again

There is a long history of authorities abridging the constitutional rights of DWI defendants. In 2013, the Supreme Court issued a ruling aimed at stopping some of these abuses. The case was called Missouri v. McNeely. It arose when law enforcement officers were forcing defendants to submit to blood tests with no warrant, arguing there were exigent circumstances justifying the warrantless searches.

The exigent circumstances the police cited were the natural metabolizing of alcohol by the body, which was destroying the evidence of a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that the fact your body slowly gets rid of alcohol is not an exigent circumstance that justifies a warrantless search.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the end of the issue of DWI defendants being forced to submit to blood tests. In 13 states, it is now a crime to refuse a blood test.  The result is defendants are told that they either have to consent to a search or potentially go to prison. When defendants consent under these circumstances, it cannot be said to be consent freely given, which seems to go against the spirit of the Missouri v. McNeely ruling.

State Supreme Courts have begun addressing this issue as state laws are challenged. The Hawaii Supreme Court, for example, recently ruled that a defendant had been coerced into giving consent with the threat of a 30-day imprisonment if he didn’t take a blood test. The defendant had originally refused the test until he was told he’d have to go to jail for refusal. His BAC was .17. The court overturned his conviction, though, because the test was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

The Hawaii decision protects only Hawaii defendants and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is necessary to protect defendants from coerced consent in the 13 states that have currently criminalized warrantless blood test refusals (as well as defendants in other states that could pass similar laws).  The Supreme Court will hear two cases, Bernard v. Minnesota and Birchfield v. North Dakota which question the constitutionality of the criminal penalties for blood test refusal.

If you are arrested for impaired driving, you must be vigilant about ensuring that the constitutional protections you are guaranteed are actually applicable in your case. Call a DWI lawyer in New Orleans today for help.

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