- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2016

The Fourth Amendment does not permit police to draw blood from motorists suspected of drunk driving unless a warrant has been obtained, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a 7-1 decision, the high court ruled that requiring individuals to submit to warrantless blood testing amounts to an unreasonable search under the U.S. Constitution.

Conducting a breath test to determine a motorist’s blood alcohol content doesn’t require a warrant, however, because “the physical intrusion is almost negligible,” the court concluded in a 6-2 ruling.

The decisions were made in response to Birchfield v. North Dakota — three consolidated cases brought before the Supreme Court concerning separate instances where individuals accused of drunk driving had challenged the legality of requiring motorists to submit to testing, by either Breathalyzer or needle.

Danny Birchfield had been sentenced to 30 days behind bars under North Dakota state law for refusing a blood test; another North Dakota resident, Michael Baylund, lost his driver’s license after being told it was illegal to refuse a blood test. In Minnesota, William Bernard said he never should have been prosecuted for refusing a breath test.

The Supreme Court found that the Constitution forbids states from prosecuting drunk-driving suspects for refusing to submit to blood testing.

“The impact of breath tests on privacy is slight, and the need for [blood alcohol content] testing is great,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “[But] blood tests are significantly more intrusive, and their reasonableness must be judged in light of the availability of the less invasive alternative of a breath test.

“It is another matter, however, for a State not only to insist upon an intrusive blood test, but also to impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to such a test,” he wrote. “There must be a limit to the consequences to which motorists may be deemed to have consented by virtue of a decision to drive on public roads.”

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