The Legality Of Warrantless Blood Tests: DUI/DWI Laws Have Undergone A Major Shift Due To A New Supreme Court Ruling

On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will affect a number of pending DUI/DWI cases in the United States, and it will definitely affect how cases are handled in the future. Learn more about what the ruling could mean for you now and in the future.

What does the new ruling on blood tests say?

The Supreme Court's ruling essentially says that warrantless blood draws on people suspected of drunk driving isn't legal. That also means that the laws in eleven states, which made refusing a blood test when you're suspected of drunk driving a crime in its own right, are also struck down. The eleven states this applies to are Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.

Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that blood tests are more invasive than breathalyzer tests and leave the government in permanent possession of a biological specimen (like DNA) from the driver. Given the ease by which the police can obtain a warrant over the phone, the Court says that requiring the police to get one isn't a serious burden.

How is this going to affect your current DUI/DWI case?

How this ruling affects your DUI/DWI case depends on the specifics of your case, and it's important that you discuss the situation with your attorney before reaching any conclusions, but there are some likely scenarios to expect:

  • If you were charged with a DUI/DWI based on a breathalyzer test, urine test, or a blood test that was obtained with a warrant, the ruling won't affect you.
  • Similarly, it's important to remember that if you agreed to take a blood test when asked, that negated the need for a warrant. 
  • On the other hand, if your case is pending in one of the eleven states directly affected, you likely no longer face prosecution for the refusal as a separate crime.

This could be a huge relief to you and a number of other defendants. If you were charged with refusing to take the blood test in Alaska, for example, you face jail time, fines of up to $1,500 (for the first offense), and the use of an interlock device on your car. 

How will this affect any future DUI/DWI stops you might experience?

If you're pulled over in the future for a DUI, you can now refuse a blood test without fear of additional penalties under the law. But, the ruling also says that penalizing someone for refusing to take a breathalyzer test is perfectly legal—which means that if the officer who pulls you over presents you with that option, you could still face charges if you refuse.

In addition, some jurisdictions now allow the prosecution to use your refusal to submit to tests that determine your level of intoxication as proof that you have "consciousness of guilt." That means that the court can decide that your refusal alone is an admission that you are driving while intoxicated. The Supreme Court has already upheld the legality of this measure.

Because the laws on DUI/DWI are constantly changing and still vary from state to state, talk to an attorney about any questions that you may have.