Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton made one thing clear regarding a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant to draw blood from a motorist suspected of driving while
His officers would continue to aggressively patrol county roads for motorists suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“This weekend we hammered them with DWIs. We were very active in DWI (patrols),” Hutton said about one week after the high court ruling.
The justices ruled 5-4 in a case out of Missouri that law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before they can get a blood sample from a motorist suspect of driving while intoxicated to confirm the person’s blood-alcohol content is above the legal limit. In Minnesota, a person with a BAC of 0.08 is considered intoxicated.
“I was surprised,” said County Attorney Pete Orput about the ruling. “On its face, it looked like it over-ruled an earlier case.”
“I am a little bit surprised,” Hutton added about the ruling. “Is it going to create some issues as we deal with it?”
Both Hutton and Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway said their departments are working with the county and city attorneys’ office for post-ruling direction.
“We’re still working on it and we’re working with the city and county attorneys to figure out the best way to work within the law,” Gannaway said.
Orput said after his office reviewed the Supreme Court ruling, law enforcement agencies in the county were advised to offer DWI suspects either a breath or urine test and follow the steps for a “telephonic” warrant to obtain a blood sample.
“They reviewed it and in this day and age, it isn’t too hard to get a warrant,” Orput said. But he admitted that the Washington County court is not fond of telephone warrants.
The Supreme Court ruling also affects the standard investigation practice of drawing blood samples from victims of serious vehicle accidents, according to Orput and Gannaway.
“Basically, for serious accidents, before we could just take blood and now they require a warrant,” Gannaway said. “Fortunately, — knock on wood — we don’t deal with that a lot, but we’ll keep looking into it.”
Orput said in vehicular homicide cases, officers were told to get a warrant as soon as possible to draw blood.
Orput also noted that prior to the Supreme Court ruling, law enforcement officers would always ask a person suspected of driving while intoxicated to take a breath or urine test to volunteer a blood sample.
“They never would draw it without your consent,” he said.
Now, Orput’s office advises officers to “just offer breath or urine” tests to DWI suspects. If a blood sample is needed, then officers should seek a warrant.
“Get a warrant to draw it. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just something we’ve got to do,” Orput said.
And Orput insists the Supreme Court ruling will not stop the county’s law enforcement agencies from stopping drivers suspected of DWI.
“We’re doing what we’ve always done. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing. We still have plenty of options. I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”