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What the Supreme Court said about warrantless DUI body searches

The Fourth Amendment protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures” of our property by the police. Ever since the Bill of Rights was made part of the law of the land in 1792, lawmakers, law enforcement and judges have grappled with the requirements of a search warrant — and when exceptions to the rule apply.

Police searches typically involve a pat-down of our body and/or a search of our bags, car, home and workplace. But our bodies are our property too, and an increasingly controversial question of criminal law is, do we have a reasonable right to privacy over our insides?

Major Supreme Court DUI test decision

A decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year addressed the issue when it comes to DUI arrests. In Birchfield v. North Dakota, the Court ruled that the “search incident to arrest” doctrine and other exceptions mean that police can force a suspect to undergo a DUI breath test without a warrant, but that blood tests still required the suspect’s or a judge’s permission.

Local ruling goes against defendant

However, this very important ruling did not help a Pennsylvania man who appealed his DUI conviction to the Superior Court. According to Yahoo News, the Birchfield decision came down shortly after he was sentenced to 90-180 days in county prison in 2016. He argued that the Birchfield ruling should apply to the involuntary blood draw police made him undergo.

The Superior Court ruled against the man by a 2-1 vote. In the ruling, the court held that the man did not have the right to invoke Birchfield as ground for appeal, because he had not raised the issue of warrantless blood draws throughout his case.

Still, rulings like Birchfield show how criminal law is constantly in flux. If you are dealing with criminal charges, your best bet is to retain a defense attorney who keeps up on the law and can apply it to your situation.


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