4.26.2013

Warrant Needed For Drug and Alcohol Test, SCOTUS Rules

US Supreme Court rules against use of forced blood draws in all DUI cases.

Justice Sonia SotomayorAmerica's top court does not want cops forcibly extracting blood from motorists without a warrant. The Supreme Court on Wednesday found Tyler McNeely's constitutional rights were violated when he was taken to a hospital for a blood draw after a Missouri state patrolman accused him of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in October 2010.
The state trooper says McNeely was speeding and weaving across the centerline at around 2:08am on that fateful day. McNeely's speech was slurred, he smelled of alcohol and he failed the standard field sobriety tests. The officer wanted a breath test, but McNeely declined. At a hospital, McNeely also refused a blood tests. The blood was taken anyway and his blood alcohol content (BAC) was measured at 0.15. The officer never sought a warrant.

Read more at: theNewspaper.com

PDF file for the 48-page decision: CLICK HERE


In this day and age it certainly seems rare when the Supreme Court rules against an expansion of police powers. This decision however, seems to be in keeping with the true spirit of the Constitution and the 4th Amendment which states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized
In many states, like here in New York state where this blog is based, drivers have long maintained a right to refusal for not only blood tests, but also for breathalyzer alcohol analyses as well. A refusal can trigger all sorts of other penalties from the DMV including revocations of your right to drive and monetary civil penalties as well, but a person does still maintain the right to refuse the invasive search... even when a police officer has probable cause to believe you are in criminal violation of the law by driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

This decision by the US Supreme Court upholds that standard.

This decision might also be seen as a precedent for drug/alcohol testing in general, and the testing of welfare recipients in particular. This idea of drug testing people who partake of government services, particularly the poor and destitute, has grown in popularity in recent years, especially among those with a right-wing/conservative political bend. Ironically enough it is usually the political-right who will obstinately defend the strictest interpretations of the Constitution in most instances, but do an about-face when it comes to protecting the liberty of folks whom they view with disdain.

2nd Amendment, 4th Amendment, and the Freedom of Hypocrisy

The conservative will often say that "welfare is not a right" or that is not in the Constitution. This may be true, but driving is not a right either, according to the laws in most states, and what is in the Constitution is the right to be free from invasive searches without a warrant. There is no asterisk there to make exception for welfare recipients, anyone partaking of any government service, or someone driving down a taxpayer funded public highway.

We see in this Supreme Court ruling that even when a police officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is under the influence of a controlled substance, they must still have a warrant before conducting a substance screening on the suspect. Again, this is despite the fact that the officer believes a crime has occurred, this is despite the fact that the person is in a public area and potential threat to public safety. And even though a person holding a driver license has essentially already consented when they made a contractual agreement with the state in order to hold that license, that person may still refuse the search by a police officer. Again, the person may be held accountable for breaching that contract with the DMV by refusing the test, but cannot be held criminally accountable for exercising their 4th Amendment rights.

It seems inconceivable then, that a person on welfare could be held to a far less rigorous standard without the practice being considered highly biased and prejudicial. After all, a person on welfare is not even accused of any crime at all, nor is there any reasonable suspicion to believe that an individual receiving a government benefit is under the influence of a controlled substance.

Essentially, drug testing a welfare applicant would be the same as drug testing anyone who applies for a driver license, or even a permit to carry a concealed pistol as another example. Drug testing the welfare recipient monthly would be like requiring the same from any other person who has a government-issued permit. Allowing for random screenings would be the no more justified than randomly stopping and testing anyone who uses any government service even, like public transportation, walking down a public street, or getting the Federally protected mail from your mailbox.

So far, the Supreme Court has ruled that drug testing of welfare recipients is indeed a violation of the 4th Amendment. With this ruling pertaining to suspected drunk drivers, it seems as though that standard is still being held, at lest for the time-being.

For more reasons other than the 4th Amendment of why drug testing should not be allowed, read:

Why Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients Is a Bad Idea














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