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Charles H. Williams,
Attorney and Counselor
at Law, P.S.
707 South Snoqualmie
Suite 4A
Seattle, WA 98108

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Should police be required to get a search warrant for a BAC test?

Being pulled over for drunk driving may have many Seattle residents wondering what their rights are. May they reject a blood alcohol test? What are the consequences if they can reject a test? What penalties may an individual face if they are found to be over the alcohol legal limit? Recently, the Supreme Court was faced with questions stemming from blood alcohol tests in drunk driving cases.

The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments regarding whether police should be required to obtain a search warrant before taking a blood sample from an individual suspected of drunk driving. The state of Missouri argued that police should not be required to get a search warrant because of the time it would take to obtain the warrant and the short amount of time it may take for alcohol to dissipate in an individual's bloodstream.

The state argues that alcohol dissipates in a rate of less than 0.025 percentage points an hour, which could drastically affect the results of a blood alcohol test. The blood alcohol test dispute may affect states that do not have laws which bar a blood alcohol test without a search warrant; more than one million people are arrested for drunk driving each year in the United States. The defendant in the dispute argues that it takes police less than an hour to obtain a search warrant and the process is made quicker by modern technology.

In Seattle and other parts of Washington, blood alcohol tests are authorized when police obtain a search warrant that is issued by the court. A defendant may challenge the admissibility of the results of a blood alcohol test. An inaccurate blood alcohol test result may include failure to use proper methods when testing the blood alcohol test sample and failure to make sure that the test sample was properly obtained by a qualified official.

A person convicted of drunk driving in Seattle may face possible prison time, significant fines and the installation of an ignition interlock system. A defendant faced with a DUI charge should be aware of their rights, such as whether a search warrant must be obtained before a blood test is required, and is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Supreme Court seems wary of warrantless blood tests in DUI cases," Greg Stohr, Jan. 9, 2013

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