U.S. Supreme Court - DUI & Warrants

As reported by Mark Sherman in the January 10, 2013 edition of the Providence Journal, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a drunk driving case and whether the police needed a warrant before taking a motorist's blood. The case involved a typical drunk driving arrest. Police in Missouri stopped a man for traffic violations, speeding and swerving. During the course of stop, the man submitted to the field sobriety tests and failed them. He was then arrested and refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. Following the man's refusal, the police took him to a local hospital where his blood was taken without his consent. The police never obtained a warrant to take the man's blood. The lower courts suppressed the blood test results finding that the blood test violated the man's constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 31-27-2, drunk driving is defined as whoever drives or otherwise operates any vehicle in the state while under the influence of any intoxicating liquor, drugs, toluene, or any controlled substance as defined in chapter 28 of title 21, or any combination of these, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor except as provided in subdivision (d)(3) and shall be punished as provided in subsection (d) of this section.

Refusing to submit to a chemical test does not mean a motorist cannot be charged with drunk driving. Rhode Island law allows for motorists to be charged with drunk driving - unknown BAC readings. The penalties include every person convicted of a first violation whose blood alcohol concentration is one-tenth of one percent (.1%) by weight or above but less than fifteen hundredths of one percent (.15%) or whose blood alcohol concentration is unknown shall be subject to a fine of not less than one hundred ($100) dollars nor more than four hundred dollars ($400) and shall be required to perform ten (10) to sixty (60) hours of public community restitution and/or shall be imprisoned for up to one year. The sentence may be served in any unit of the adult correctional institutions in the discretion of the sentencing judge. The person's driving license shall be suspended for a period of three (3) months to twelve (12) months. The sentencing judge shall require attendance at a special course on driving while intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance and/or alcoholic or drug treatment for the individual.

Only in specific drunk driving cases, those involving death or serious injury, can the police take a motorist's blood after they refused to submit to a chemical test. Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 31-27-2.9, notwithstanding any provision of § 31-27-2.1, if an individual refuses to consent to a chemical test as provided in § 31-27-2.1, and a peace officer, as defined in § 12-7-21, has probable cause to believe that the individual has violated one or more of the following sections: 31-27-1 (driving to endanger – death resulting), 31-27-1.1 (driving to endanger – serious injury resulting), 31-27-2.2 (drunk driving – death resulting), or 31-27-2.6 (drunk driving – serious injury resulting) and that the individual was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of any intoxicating liquor, toluene or any controlled substance as defined in chapter 21-28, or any combination thereof, a chemical test may be administered without the consent of that individual provided that the peace officer first obtains a search warrant authorizing administration of the chemical test. The chemical test shall determine the amount of the alcohol or the presence of a controlled substance in that person's blood or breath.

(b) The chemical test shall be administered in accordance with the methods approved by the director of the department of health as provided for in subdivision 31-27-2(c)(4). The individual shall be afforded the opportunity to have an additional chemical test as established in subdivision 31-27-2(c)(6). Even in the DUI – death resulting and DUI – serious injury resulting cases, the police must still get a warrant before taking the motorist's blood.

If you or a family member has been charged with drunk driving, drunk driving – death resulting or other driving offenses, please allow Attorney Robert H. Humphrey's reputation, experience and skill to successfully guide you through the legal process. Please contact Attorney Robert H. Humphrey, Esq., at 401-816-5862 or e-mail him at

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