Supreme Court hears arguments in case on DUI blood tests without warrants

Supreme Court hears arguments in case on DUI blood tests without warrants

CREATED Jan 10, 2013

Reporter: Justin Schecker

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Can police obtain a blood sample in DUI arrests without a warrant? That's the question at the center of a Missouri drunk driving case that made its way to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning.  

"DUI is a serious crime that needs to be enforced, but crimes are all serious and nonetheless we need to strike a balance with the public's right to privacy," said Mike Bloom, a Tucson attorney who specializes in DUI defense. 

Before the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took Tyler McNeely's case to the Supreme Court, the legal precedent dates back to the mid-1960s for DUI cases where officers could obtain blood samples without warrants.

It's easier to protect Fourth Amendment privacy rights now in DUI cases because of new technology, Bloom said.      

The 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Schmerber v. California decided DUI arrests could be special circumstances where authorities did not always need a warrant. The rationale was by the time police obtained a warrant, a person's blood alcohol level would drop and the evidence would go away. 

"I think the rationale under that case is no longer valid," Bloom said. "In those days, in order to get a search warrant, it required that police would actually have to go to a judge's house write up a search warrant, have a judge sign it and it would take several hours to do that."

Over the years, officers in Arizona have abused that precedent and rushed to obtain blood samples without a warrant in cases that were not emergencies, Bloom said.     

"In the age where police can get warrants in 20-30 minutes, the application of those principles is going to change," Bloom said.

Now, not only can officers get a warrant over the phone, Bloom said most police officers, including those here in Tucson, are trained to draw blood themselves, also speeding up the process.

"There could be a case where there is an emergency," Bloom said. "There is a DUI 100 miles from Tucson and there's no judge available by phone to authorize a warrant."

Still, Bloom said he thinks the Supreme Court will side with the ACLU's client, defending the right to privacy and the need for police to obtain a warrant. 

Bloom co-hosts the annual state seminar in May on DUI defense. He told 9 On Your Side this case will surely be the first topic of discussion.