The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that police can’t forcibly draw blood from individuals suspected of drunken driving without a warrant. This is a huge win for advocates of civil liberties. However, they continued to allow breath tests without a warrant — as the court considered them less intrusive.
The ruling stemmed from three cases in Minnesota and North Dakota in which drivers challenged “implied consent” laws as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The laws had previously withstood challenges in state courts.
Although drivers in all 50 U.S. states can have their licenses revoked for refusing drunk driving tests, today’s ruling specifically affects 11 states that have laws that impose criminal penalties beyond license suspension for such refusals.
According to a report by Associated Press:
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said breath tests do not implicate “significant privacy concerns.” Unlike blood tests, breathing into a breathalyzer doesn’t pierce the skin or leave a biological sample in the government’s possession, he said.
Alito compared blowing into a breath test machine to using “a straw to drink beverages,” which he called “a common practice and one to which few object.” He noted that the high court has previously declined to require a warrant for collecting DNA samples by rubbing a swab on the inside of a person’s cheek or scraping underneath a person’s fingernails to find evidence of a crime.
Six justices agreed with Alito’s opinion on breath tests, though Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to say he would have found both tests valid without a warrant under the Constitution. Thomas called any distinction between breath and blood tests “an arbitrary line in the sand.”
Other states that have criminalized a driver’s refusal to take alcohol blood or breath tests include Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.
The states argued that alcohol testing is a legitimate condition for being allowed the privilege of using publicly owned roads. They claim it was too much of a burden to have to obtain a warrant each time someone refused a test, as some rural areas only have one judge on call on weekends or in the late night hours.
Some of the justices challenged this suggestion during oral arguments, pointing out that even in rural areas, a simple phone call by police to a judge can get a warrant within minutes.
Those challenging the law claimed that warrantless searches are reserved for “extraordinary circumstances,” noting that a routine driving under the influence stop should be treated as a regular function of law enforcement where constitutional protections apply.
In a separate opinion penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which vigorously defended the rights of individual citizens, Sotomayor said she would have required search warrants for both breath and blood alcohol tests – stating that no governmental interest makes it impractical for an officer to get a warrant before measuring a driver’s alcohol level.
“The Fourth Amendment prohibits such searches without a warrant, unless exigent circumstances exist in a particular case,” Sotomayor said.
Of course, no one here is advocating for drunk driving. However, the extent to which police will go to enforce this misdemeanor is becoming glaringly tyrannical.
The following footage filmed in Georgia shows cops strapping down citizens to gurneys, before using a needle to forcibly draw blood as the victim screams, “WHAT COUNTRY IS THIS?”
Even those who show no resistance whatsoever are forcibly restrained and have their heads pressed down by an officer using his elbow.
“We all are American citizens and you guys have me strapped to a table like I’m in Guantanamo f***ing Bay,” says one of the victims — poignantly drawing the comparison between the American police state and the military industrial complex.
While it is certainly good news to hear that people will no longer be strapped down against their will, without a court order, and forcibly have their bodily fluids removed by agents of the state, the fact that the court failed to fully safeguard individual liberty is in line with a long trend of recent Supreme Court decisions that have essentially destroyed the Fourth Amendment.
Aside from the Fourth Amendment considerations, forcing individuals to incriminate themselves, under penalty of law, violates the Fifth Amendment, as it compels suspects to provide evidence against themselves under threat of criminal prosecution.