Drunkenness is a relative state. Some individuals become intoxicated more quickly than others, while some sober up more promptly. As alcohol metabolizes in the bloodstream after one has stopped drinking, the individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC) becomes less concentrated over time. This phenomenon often frustrates law enforcement, who seek to confirm a suspected drunk driver’s illegal BAC before it metabolizes to a level below the legal limit of .08.
However, this frustration is not grounds for blood draws without a warrant, says the Supreme Court. The Court recently ruled on this contentious issue in favor of the rights of those accused over the desire of law enforcement to make DUI charges stick in related cases. Ultimately, taking blood from a suspect without a warrant justified only by metabolic concerns constitutes an unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
There are instances in which law enforcement may take blood from suspected drunk drivers without a warrant. However, the criteria by which this action may be taken legally must extend beyond concerns that a suspect’s BAC will normalize by the time that blood can be taken lawfully.
The Court issued an unsigned opinion for the majority in which it reaffirmed that “Warrantless intrusions of the body are not to be undertaken lightly.” This holding is a victory for civil liberties advocates who have become increasingly concerned in recent years that the courts are more concerned with the ability of law enforcement to quickly act on their impulses than with the privacy rights of those who are accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Source: New York Times, “Court Says Police Need Warrant for Blood Test,” Adam Liptak, Apr. 17, 2013