The Supreme Court in South Dakota recently issued an important ruling this week when it determined that the existing implied consent law regarding DUI traffic stops is unconstitutional and, as a result, ought not be allowed to continue until it has been rewritten. The ruling means that the state’s law, passed in 2006, will now go back to the drawing board as legislators scramble to craft an appropriate fix.
The original law at issue in the case was a fairly standard implied consent provision, which said that blood could be drawn from suspected drunk drivers without a warrant or the driver’s consent. The rationale was that the public has a greater interest in securing the safety of the roads by removing impaired drivers than the individual driver does in maintaining his or her privacy.
Last year, the issue of implied consent laws received substantial attention after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Missouri case where police forced a suspect to undergo a blood test without a warrant amounted to an unacceptable search and seizure. The Court decided that police officers must work to receive a valid search warrant signed by a judge before ordering the blood test for drunk driving suspects.
Many thought the Supreme Court decision was confusing given its lack of a clear rule. Rather than strictly decide that officers must obtain a search warrant or a driver’s permission before conducting blood tests in every case, the Supreme Court left the door open for interpretation, saying that in some extraordinary cases a warrantless search might be justified.
Since that ruling came out, judges across the country, and specifically those in South Dakota, have struggled to decide whether existing laws need to be rewritten. Several courts have already heard the matter concerning South Dakota’s implied consent law and have issued conflicting verdicts.
The state Supreme Court took up the matter to resolve the dispute and announced its decision regarding the case of a South Dakota woman, Shauna Fierro. The woman was arrested late last summer for driving a motorcycle while intoxicated and had a blood test taken without her consent at the local jail. A lower court ruled that the blood test ought to be excluded given the recent Supreme Court decision. After several appeals, the state Supreme Court agreed, deciding that the results in Fierro’s case ought to be excluded as they were the result of an unconstitutional, warrantless search.
Where the legislature goes from here remains to be seen and many experts believe the South Dakota case could start a trend in other states where the implied consent laws are remarkably similar.
Source: “SD DUI implied consent law ruled unconstitutional,” published at SeattlePI.com.