Use Of Blood Alcohol Tests Being Scrutinized
The state of Oregon imposes a variety of penalties on persons who are convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants. A DUII conviction can lead to fines and jail time imposed in criminal court. In addition, administrative penalties can be ordered, resulting in the loss or restriction of driving privileges. Even before a trial and conviction, officers can confiscate a driver’s license immediately when arresting the driver for DUII.
Motorists have guaranteed constitutional rights that protect them from unreasonable behavior by the police. A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court calls into question some police procedures.
Tests administered to suspects
Oregon is one of the states that have an “implied consent” law. Under this law, anybody who operates a motor vehicle implicitly consents to being given a blood alcohol concentration test if a law enforcement officer asks for one. Blood alcohol tests can analyze a breath, blood or urine sample.
It’s important to remember that refusing to take a blood alcohol test results in an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension. Refusing the test can also be used as evidence against the driver at a DUII trial in court.
If a test indicates a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, the driver is considered to be under the influence of intoxicants and will be arrested and charged with DUII. Younger drivers, under age 21, can be charged if there is any amount of alcohol at all indicated by the blood alcohol test.
The Supreme Court decision
In the McNeely case recently decided by the Supreme Court, a speeding driver was pulled over on a highway in Missouri. The driver looked and acted as if he was intoxicated and was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.
Even though he refused to consent to a breath or blood test, police subjected him to a blood test, which indicated a blood alcohol level of 0.15, well above the legal limit. The police did not obtain a warrant before the blood test.
The state court threw out the results of the blood test, finding that the blood test was intrusive, and there were no exigent circumstances that would have permitted the police to perform the test without a warrant. The Supreme Court upheld the state court’s decision, finding that a warrantless blood test was not permissible except under limited circumstances. The fact that warrants are generally easy to obtain with modern electronic technology was a factor that contributed to the decision.
Practical consequences of the decision
The McNeely decision did not provide specific requirements that indicate when a warrant is necessary for a blood alcohol test and when one is not. All the circumstances have to be taken into account, but police will certainly need to take extra care to avoid violating a suspect’s constitutional rights in a DUII arrest.
It may be that applications of Oregon’s implied consent law will not always hold up under the latest Supreme Court decision. Any driver who is arrested for DUII will benefit from calling an attorney, especially if the driver has refused a blood test or has been given a blood test without a warrant. An attorney will investigate all the facts in the case, and will stand up for the driver’s constitutional rights.