Recent Supreme Court decisions regarding what constitutes a legal and illegal search when a person is suspected of DWI. As a result of those decisions it is now clear what the police are allowed to do under the authority of Constitution regarding warrantless blood draws and breath tests, but it is not as clear whether a warrantless urine test is allowed or not.
Before discussing any of these decisions, it is important to understand what lawyers, judges, police, and prosecutors are talking about with warrants in the first place. To begin, it s a general and long-held principle of law that the government, and by extension the police, are not allowed to perform a search or seizure of your person or property without first obtaining a warrant. This is known as a warrant requirement.
The warrant requirement is born of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Over the years, judges have interpreted that requirement to mean that before the police can search property or make an arrest, they must first obtain a warrant from a neutral magistrate who can rule that probable cause a crime was committed by the subject of the search.
Exceptions to a Warrant
Understanding this general rule leads to the next principle related to the warrant requirement, and that is that there are exceptions to this general rule. Inevitably there arises situations where police officers are confronted with the choice of collecting evidence or making an arrest without a warrant, or letting the evidence disappear or the suspect to get away while they apply for a warrant. In those limited, special situations there are exceptions to getting a warrant for the police.
Up until these recent decisions, state governments have argued that collecting a blood or breath sample from a DWI suspect fits under the exception to the warrant requirement. Their reasoning was that as time goes by the alcohol in a person’s blood or urine dissipates. Of course defense attorneys like those of us at The Wilder DWI Defense Firm, have argued the opposite – that the police are required to get a warrant for both breath and blood tests.
Finally, the Supreme Court has given us a bright line rule on these issues. Under new Supreme Court jurisprudence, it is unlawful for the police to take a blood sample without a warrant, but lawful to force a breathalyzer. Of course, as soon as these issues were resolved, it was asked whether warrantless urine tests were also unlawful. In a case that asked this very question of the court, the conviction was vacated (overturned) and sent back to the state’s Supreme Court to resolve in light of the new bright line rule on blood and breath tests.
Defending Your Rights
The very real fight over protecting the rights of those accused of committing a DWI or other crimes continues on. It takes place in the courts and negotiations on a daily basis, and if you are accused of DWI you are part of this fight. Contact us today so we can tell you what your legal options are, and help you understand what we can do to protect your constitutional rights.
(photo courtesy of Clara Natoli)