Police/Courts / Politics

Supreme Court debate blood alcohol test ruling; local police say ruling not vital

Nearly 30 people die every day in the United States in vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver.

In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for more than 30 percent of all traffic-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether police have the right to involuntarily draw a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver without a warrant. Earlier this month, the justices heard a case that stems from the arrest of a Missouri man who got his blood drawn without a warrant in 2010.

Mount Pleasant Public Information Officer Jeff Thompson said once an individual is pulled over following an infraction of the law or other reasonable suspicion, an officer makes contact with the individual and then determines if the driver is under the influence based on the officer’s observations.

“If the officer determines that the driver is either operating while impaired or intoxicated, the officer will then decide to arrest the driver,” Thompson said.

Isabella County sheriff Leo Mioduszewski said if an individual refuses to take a breath test, an officer can get a court order to draw blood, which is not uncommon.

“In every case, we try to get blood, breath or urine,” Mioduszewski said. “Those are the three options to put together a criminal case.”

Thompson said a person can refuse the breath test, but, based on the implied consent law, the driver agreed to when he got a Michigan driver’s license, he will be fined if he refuses the test.

Mioduszewski said in order to administer a blood test, a warrant is faxed to a magistrate who approves or denies the request.

He said the approval typically comes within a matter of minutes, meaning the blood alcohol level of the suspected individual is virtually unchanged.

However, a ruling could speed up the process and get officers back out on the road sooner.

“It would make it a little easier for police officers to get blood in the case of a refusal,” Mioduszewski said. “It would help a little, but it really just takes minutes.”

Like Mioduszewski, Thompson doesn’t find the case critical to how the police department operates.

“It seems like a moot point because we do not take blood now without consent or a search warrant,” he said. “After all, it is a search protected by the Constitution.”

Prior to testing an individual, the officer reads him his “Chemical Test Rights,” as required by law.

“These rights remind the person of their rights under the law that they have to submit to the test we are asking them to take,” Thompson said. “The rights also explain the consequences if they refuse, which is a loss of their driver’s license.”

Thompson said if the individual agrees, he is given the test and court proceedings follow. If the driver refuses the chemical test, the officer calls a magistrate and obtains a search warrant for the subject’s blood.

“The subject is then taken to the hospital where a certified person draws the blood sample and it is turned over to the officer as evidence,” he said. “The officer then submits the blood evidence to the MSP crime lab for alcohol analysis.”

If the test is refused, the individual’s driver’s license is confiscated and destroyed.

“The driver will get a hearing, with the end result of the refusal is the loss of their driving privileges,” Thompson said.

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