Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blood samples without a warrant . . . are they kidding?

The Missouri House of Representatives, by a wide margin, has passed a bill "to crack down on Missouri's drunken drivers."  (Link to story here.)  

Well, who could be against "cracking down" on drunk drivers?  I'm not.  By all means, "crack down."

But wait a minute.  The devil is usually in the details.  What does "crack down" mean?  Well, in this case, according to the official summary of the bill, it means 19 different things.  Some of them are good and some innocuous.  On the other hand, the bill "allows a blood sample to be extracted without consent and without a warrant from any person suspected of operating a motor vehicle in an intoxicated condition if the person has refused to submit to a chemical test."

If this bill becomes law, it would mean that the police would have the right to have you strapped down, stuck with a needle, and bled without your consent and without having a judge review the facts of your arrest and sign off on a warrant beforehand.  All this in the name of being tough on drunk driving.  A Show-Me style police state?  Do we really want that?

Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) was one of 28 votes against the bill and against 123 in favor.  Colona is a liberal Democrat and I suspect that we disagree on nearly everything but he's right on the money this time, calling the passed bill "an end run around the rights guaranteed in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments."

I understand the motivation of the supporters of this bill.  They must be frustrated that individual drunken drivers can refuse breathalyzers and blood tests and avoid prosecution for their offenses.  It takes to long, I'm sure they would say, to get a warrant.  The driver could sober up.

But the problem shouldn't be solved by trampling the Constitution.  No, the problem should be resolved by expediting the warrant process.  If the police have probable cause to genuinely believe that a driver was drunk, and that driver refused to provide a sample for chemical analysis, it should be possible to have a judge on call to review a legitimate request for a warrant and issue one if the circumstances call for it.

If there is a problem, it is with the warrant PROCESS, not with the warrant REQUIREMENT.

This is an example of good people, with good motivations, using the wrong means to reach their laudable goals.  But this bill must be stopped in the Missouri Senate.

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