Supreme Court: Police Can Draw Blood From Unconscious Drivers

This past week, the Supreme Court ruled that police may order blood drawn from any unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence. In a 5-4 vote, the court decided to uphold a Wisconsin law that states people driving on a public road impliedly consent to have their blood drawn when they receive their license. The court also stated that “exigent circumstances” permit officers to obtain these blood samples without a warrant.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion that because alcohol dissipates in the blood over time, states can invoke the “exigent-circumstances doctrine” to allow a blood test without a warrant. Justice Samuel Alito said that the demands on the time of police officers help contribute to these exigent circumstances, such as allowing more time to assess damage and provide help to any injured in a drunk driving accident.

In past cases, the justices have ruled that drawing blood is an “extreme bodily intrusion” and that there are less intrusive ways to enforce drunk driving laws, such as obtaining a warrant, which can be done very quickly using today’s technology. In 2013, the court ruled that police who obtained a nonconsensual blood draw without a warrant violated the Constitution.

The ruling on this case is seen by many to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects United States citizens from unreasonable and unwarranted search and seizures. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul praised the ruling in a statement: “This law helps protect communities from impaired drivers. We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Wisconsin law that promotes public safety.” 


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