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High court hears case involving the question of warrantless blood draws in DUI cases

The Supreme Court seemed skeptical on Wednesday during oral arguments involving the issue of whether states should permit police officers to administer warrantless blood draws on DUI suspects. Right now, 50 states permit officers to skip the general warrant requirement in order to obtain a more accurate blood alcohol reading. The other 50 states require officers to obtain a warrant from a judge prior to all blood draws.

The issue is an important one in a time when drunk-driving deaths take an inordinate amount of lives yearly. In 2010, 10,000 people died as a result of alcohol-impaired driving. That amounts to one every 51 minutes or so.

The case that gave rise to the appeal involves a Missouri man who was forced to submit to a blood draw after turning down a breath test. Police chose not to obtain a blood warrant after he failed several sobriety tests, though they could have.

All 50 states have implied consent laws, which presume that drivers suspected of DUI have already consented to a chemical test to determine their blood alcohol level. While states do allow drivers to refuse such tests, there are consequences for doing so, oftentimes including drivers license suspension. But as we've noted, the issue of whether police may force a blood test against a DUI suspect's will is not agreed upon by every state.

The Obama administration has thrown in with the state of Missouri on the issue, urging the Supreme Court to allow officers an exception to the general warrant requirement in order to get more accurate blood samples.

The outcome of the case will have a significant impact on states that currently permit warrantless blood draws. We'll keep our readers updated on the case, a decision for which is expected by the end of the summer.

Source: Nola.com, "Supreme Court skeptical of DUI blood tests administered without a warrant," Supreme Court skeptical of DUI blood administered without a warrant," January 9, 2012.

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