U.S. Supreme Court to hear case on whether police can force a blood test on DUI suspects

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear a DUI case that is expected to clarify when police are allowed to force a blood draw on a person suspected of DUI. The court’s opinion, now expected to come down in early 2013, will likely have a far-reaching, nationwide impact on a suspect’s right to refuse a blood test after being arrested for DUI in Jacksonville and elsewhere. The case at issue, discussed in an article in the Florida Times Union, involves a Missouri man who was pulled over for driving erratically. The officer said the driver smelled of alcoholic beverages and was slurring his words. But, when police asked him to take a breath test – a common procedure in a Duval County DUI case – the suspect refused. The officer then drove the man to a lab and ordered the man’s blood to be taken, without even attempting to get a warrant.

The suspect’s blood-alcohol level was nearly double the legal limit and he was arrested for DUI. But a judge ruled the blood test was not admissible. Appellate courts have agreed, but Missouri prosecutors have continued to pursue the case up the judicial ladder, reaching the peak last week when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Like most other states, Florida has what is called an implied consent law. Basically, it means that by getting a driver’s license, a person agrees to submit to a breath or blood test when an officer asks. A suspect can refuse – and many do – but the person then faces having his or her driver’s license suspended for one year. If someone refuses a second time on a separate arrest, he or she can be charged with what’s called a “criminal refusal.” It’s a first-degree misdemeanor in Jacksonville with a maximum penalty of one year in the county jail and, this time, the license suspension is 18 months.

The implied consent is key in Florida when it comes to a blood test. In most Jacksonville Driving Under the Influence cases, police would just rely on a breath test. But, if there is an accident and police suspect the driver is under the influence but he or she is injured and cannot communicate, police are legally allowed to take his or her blood. If a person is not capable off refusing, they have legally consented – according to the applied consent law. The issue is the Missouri case the Supreme Court will hear is a little different. In that case, the suspect did refuse, but police took blood anyway. Prosecutors argued that it was at 2 a.m., it was difficult to get a warrant, so police just took the blood. Convenience isn’t typically a reason to not follow the law, and the court battle ensued. The suspect clearly refused to take the test but was forced to by police and that’s now the major issue at hand.

Applications of various criminal laws can change rather quickly, and our Jacksonville DUI Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, stays on top of the latest development s to know every point that could affect a case. If you or a loved one needs an experienced DUI attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County DUI attorney is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.