We previously discussed the important Supreme Court case, Missouri v. McNeely; a case that dealt with the legality of warrantless blood tests. In that case, Missouri and some 30 other states asked the Supreme Court to grant police officers nearly total discretion in deciding when a suspect’s blood could be drawn without a warrant. The Court thankfully rejected this idea, holding instead that police are required to try and obtain a search warrant from a judge before ordering blood tests for DWI suspects.
Though the case before the Supreme Court came from Missouri, the ruling sent shockwaves across the country and has resulted in legal action here in Minnesota. All across the state, breath tests and blood tests are commonplace for those who are suspected of driving under the influence and, surprising to some, warrants are few and far between. Up until now, warrants are not sought in most drunk driving arrests in Minnesota. One Minnesota county has now taken action to bring their laws into compliance with the dictates contained in the McNeely case.
Officials in Stearns County, MN say that they are the first place in the state to require police officers to obtain a search warrant before attempting to obtain a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver. Police officers and deputies will no longer read the state’s implied consent advisory to suspects, but will instead ask the driver to voluntarily submit to a chemical test to determine their level of intoxication. If the driver refuses, the arresting police officer or deputy will seek a search warrant for a blood sample.
The news is a victory for citizens in Stearns County who no longer need to fear warrantless blood tests that take place without any judicial oversight. The law is clear that suspects are allowed to waive the warrant requirement if they choose to do so. Without such a voluntary waiver, police will have to get a judge to sign off on any blood test.
Local police officers have complained that the new requirements will create an unfair burden, forcing them to waste valuable time filling out paperwork and tracking down judges. Civil rights advocates say that the small amount of time spent obtaining a warrant far outweighs the risks of violating an individual’s rights to be secure from unreasonable searches.
To ensure that delays do not unnecessarily hamper police investigations, local judges have said they will be handling drunk driving warrant requests by fax while they are at home. Courts in Stearns County have purchased portable fax machines to ensure that judges remain on-call while at home in the evening or over the weekend when many DWI stops take place. This way, police officers cannot claim that the warrant requirement is preventing them from doing their job of keeping dangerous drivers off the street.
Source: Steph Crock, published at KAALTV.com.