Printed on: January 10, 2013

Court wary of warrantless blood tests in DUI cases


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court appeared reluctant Wednesday to allow police to routinely order blood tests for unwilling drunken-driving suspects without at least trying to obtain a search warrant from a judge.

The court heard arguments Wednesday in a case about a disputed blood test from Missouri, against the backdrop of a serious national problem of more than 10,000 deaths from crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers in 2010, about one every 51 minutes.

That number has dropped by 60 percent in the past 20 years because of a sustained national crackdown on drunken driving. Lawyers for Missouri and the Obama administration argued that dispensing with a warrant requirement would further that effort because any delay in testing a suspect's blood-alcohol content allows alcohol to dissipate in the blood.

"Here, police are facing the certain destruction of blood-alcohol evidence," Justice Department lawyer Nicole Saharsky said.

But justices across the ideological spectrum questioned whether the intrusive procedure of sticking a needle in someone's arm to draw blood should routinely be done without the approval of a judge. At the same time, they made clear that they did not want to unduly delay the collection of blood samples.