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Supreme Court Ruling May Shift How DUI Arrests Are Handled in PA

A recent Supreme Court decision stated that a search warrant must be obtained before officials draw blood from people suspected of driving under the influence.

Typically, when an officer pulls over a motorist and has probable cause for arrest, the officer takes the motorist directly to hospital for a blood draw. Now, police have to get a search warrant first.  

“So that’s going to require some sort of procedural change where the police officer can get this information to a magistrate and get a signed warrant before taking a person to get a blood draw,” attorney Michael Sherman said.

He said the ruling on blood tests is meant to protect the constitutional rights of motorists. And while it will mean changes to the system, Sherman said it likely won't complicate the process.

But Sherman said some questions remain, including how this decision will impact Pennsylvania’s implied consent law. Through that, a motorist agrees to chemical tests (either blood or breath) upon obtaining a driver’s license.

“If a motorist says, ‘I want to exercise my rights, you have to go get a warrant before you take my blood.’ What if they don’t get that in time, will the courts look at that as a refusal? What if someone says, ‘No, I’m not going for blood, get a warrant,’ and the officer says, ‘No, I deem you a refusal,’” Sherman said. “The interplay between the two laws will be interesting.”

Motorists can simply consent to a blood test. If they refuse, however, that can come with a penalty of losing their driver’s license for one year, and the driver can still be prosecuted for DUI.

Another option to test a motorists’ level of intoxication is a breathalyzer test, but the efficacy of such technology been called into question.

Earlier this year, a Dauphin County DUI case prompted the Pennsylvania State Police to halt the use of breathalyzer tests. It was determined there were issues with breath-analysis readings below 0.05 and above 0.15 blood alcohol level.

Following that court case, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala recommended all departments suspend uthe se of breathalyzer tests. But now, Sherman said, many departments are going back to using them.

“It’s my understanding that the Pennsylvania State Police have started recalibrating the devices in a certain manner that will take it over the .15 calibration, but that still doesn’t get around the unreliability of the whole process that the Dauphin County judge pointed out in his opinion,” Sherman said.

A blood test is the most accurate way to measure the level of a motorist's intoxication.