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Supreme Court draws a line between blood and breath tests


Three cases regarding drunk driving chemical tests recently went before the United States Supreme Court. The justices reviewed the cases and issued a ruling that is interesting. In short, people who are stopped by police officers can refuse to have blood tests done unless the police officers obtain warrants, but they can’t refuse breath tests.

The ruling by the Supreme Court noted that there is one big difference between breath tests and blood tests — the intrusiveness of the test. Breath tests aren’t as intrusive. In fact, one justice noted that taking a breath test is essentially the same thing as sucking on a straw. Blood tests, however, are a different matter. The skin has to be pierced to draw blood. The biological evidence remains in the custody of the law enforcement agency or their agents.

Although the justices did note that they understand why states would seek out blood tests without warrants in drunk driving cases, they noted that those tests are a violations of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. One justice noted that the Fourth Amendment isn’t merely a suggestion and that it is up to the Supreme Court to protect constitutional rights.

The ruling by the Supreme Court has a very important implication in Virginia. It means that drivers can be arrested for refusing to take a breath test but that drivers do have the right to refuse a blood test. Understanding the ruling and how it applies to your case can be difficult. Still, it can be a very important part of a drunk driving defense plan.

Source: USA Today, “Supreme Court divides over breath, blood tests for drunk drivers,” Richard Wolf, June 23, 2016

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