DUI Blood Test Warrants Crucial for Enforcement of “No Refusal Zones”

New policies won’t allow drunk drivers to refuse blood alcohol testing. Image courtesy of Josh Hallett @ www.flickr.com/photos/hyku.
New policies won’t allow drunk drivers to refuse blood alcohol testing. Image courtesy of Josh Hallett .

A suspected drunk driver may be able to refuse a breathalyzer test, but officers in an increasing number of cities adopting “No Refusal” initiatives are now seeking warrants for blood draws to determine a suspect’s blood alcohol content. In instances where a breath test is refused by the driver, officers can immediately apply to a judge for a DWI/DUI search warrant via telephone or other electronic communication, allowing blood tests to be performed quickly to reflect accurate alcohol levels at the time of the arrest.

The conviction of impaired drivers during expanding “No Refusal” efforts is streamlined by electronic warrant acquisition, a process that can take around 90 minutes, according to case studies. Net Transcripts’ services offer transcription of these audio search warrants for agency files, court records, and investigations. Transcripts will be promptly returned in a few hours, so officers can meet deadlines to present the document to a judge or magistrate for certification.

A 2013 Supreme Court ruling mandated that law enforcement officials are required to obtain such warrants for DWI blood tests. The decision followed a Missouri case in early January 2013, when previously convicted drunk-driving suspect McNeely refused both a breath and blood test and was taken without warrant or consent to a hospital for a blood draw by the arresting officer. The Court affirmed the warrantless test was a violation of Fourth Amendment rights, and that normal dissipation of blood alcohol levels did not constitute as a threat to destruction of evidence.

For law enforcement officials, obtaining warrants has not hindered efforts to convict impaired drivers. The city of St. Louis entered the New Year as a “No Refusal Zone,” where drivers known to turn down breath tests – about 50% of each month’s 20 to 25 drunk driving-related arrests – will now be compelled to provide blood samples if they refuse to use a breathalyzer, allowing officers to collect evidence valuable to a DWI conviction. Other agencies have expanded the initiative to day-to-day enforcement, and many departments conduct “No Refusal” holidays and weekends in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas and Utah, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In South Dakota, the statewide “No Refusal” initiative has recently been under fire from defense lawyers. The state’s existing laws do not require a warrant for DUI blood draws, and law enforcement may acquire blood tests with warrant or consent, contrary to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in McNeely v. Missouri. The issue has been petitioned to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Individuals faced with DWI convictions in the future may be responsible for costs related to their bloodwork. Officials in Harris County, Texas have voiced interest in charging the costs of blood tests to DWI offenders, a component of restitution that will help agencies and counties cover the expenses. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences laboratory spent around $358,000 to process cases in 2012, including 2,000 DWI cases, and received only $1,000 in restitution for blood draw expenses.

With potential for reimbursement of blood tests and technologic improvements to expedite the process of obtaining a warrant, more agencies may join the trend toward a “No Refusal” nation.

Click here to view a sample affidavit that officers compile to apply for a search warrant, provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For more information on obtaining transcripts of telephonic search warrants, please visit Net Transcripts’ website.


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