In most cases, courts say police cannot just take your blood and test it. The U.S. Constitution, courts say, demands police get a warrant from a judge first.
But last year, by the slimmest margin possible, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Wisconsin that the state’s “impliedly consented” law allows police to take a driver’s blood and test the alcohol level in urgent situations (“exigent circumstances”).
Wild DUI stories grab more attention
Amusing DUI stories get a lot of traffic on the internet, so it seems unlikely this major Supreme Court decision was the most-seen DUI story of 2019.
That honor probably goes to the story of a woman at a famous taco chain who gave a drive-up window employee a shot of booze. She poured the liquor directly from the bottle into his mouth. A sheriff’s office sergeant happened to be there to witness her generosity.
Suicidal man arrested at the hospital
Despite its dramatic events and importance for the rights of every American, fewer eyes probably saw the story leading to the high court’s decision.
Neighbors called Wisconsin police saying a man was suicidal and drunk, and that he had driven away in his van. The police stopped him and gave him a roadside breath test and then headed to the station for more accurate breath tests.
But the man’s condition left him unable to give another sample of breath. Police took him to a hospital and ordered staff to test his blood. He proved to be over the legal limit and police arrested him.
Court allows some warrantless blood tests
Attorneys argued the blood draw was an invasive search, required a warrant to be constitutional, and police could not use it in court.
In a close and complex response, the Supreme Court said that police had good reason (probable cause) to suspect the driver was guilty of DUI, and his unconsciousness required a hospital visit anyway. In such cases, the police “may almost always order a warrantless blood test.”
They then sent the case back to Wisconsin for more argument. If the suspect can show the police had blood drawn only for the alcohol test without a medical reason, he just might win his case despite the influential ruling.