SUNBURY — Some officials are up in arms over a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will now force police to get a search warrant in order to draw blood from suspected drunken drivers and one district judge plans to work as late as necessary to support police.
Late last week the Supreme Court placed new limits on state laws that made it a crime for motorists suspected of drunken driving to refuse alcohol tests. Now police need a search warrant before requiring drivers to take blood alcohol tests.
The decision was prompted by three separate appeals — two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota — involving individuals who were arrested for drunken driving and threatened with fines if they refused to get their blood taken.
All three refused but were tested anyway. One by breath test and two had their blood drawn. Because of their refusals all three were charged separately for declining the tests.
Each person appealed and argued that getting criminally charged for refusing the tests violated the Fourth Admendment which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Both North Dakota and Minnesota state supreme courts denied the appeals. On Thursday, the Supreme Court did agree with part of the argument, citing the direct blood testing.
The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot conduct blood tests unless a warrant is obtained first. The ruling states drawing blood is more invasive than a breathalyzer thus the need for the warrant.
Police may still issue breath tests without a warrant, the Supreme Court ruled.
Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch is still reviewing the ruling to determine its impact on Pennsylvania, which doesn't have a separate crime for refusal to comply. Despite the uncertainty he will encourage law enforcement agencies in his county to invest in breathalyzer equipment.
"It could change the way we do DUI enforcement and prosecution, but it's not like they threw out the DUI statute," he said. "It'll cost money and time, but we'll make adjustments."
Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz agreed it will make work very difficult for law enforcement personnel.
"It will require a district judge to be able to work 24 hours a day," he said. "I don't think Mother Against Drunk Drivers will be happy with this opinion."
Sunbury Cpl. Brad Hare, who has been put back in charge of the department after Sgt. Jim Taylor was injured in a motorcycle accident on Sunday, said his officers are also going to suffer from the decision.
"Our guys are very proactive in DUI stops," Hare said. "We can't get a judge now during late hours and now we will have to detain the person and wait for a warrant. It is going to make our job very hard to do."
Shamokin District Judge John Gembic said if he gets called to serve a warrant for blood, he won't hesitate to accept the call.
"In the past, I've made it my practice to be available to all law enforcement 24 hours a day for warrants and arraignments and other legal matters that are time sensitive," Gembic said. "This new ruling will require us to be ready 24 hours a day, and for me it changes nothing because I will continue to take all calls from police and public who call me at all hours. Police have already come to my home at all hours to request me to execute warrants and other police activities even though I am only obligated to be on call every fourth week. This is just another example of my continued commitment to our police services in keeping our communities safe."
Northumberland County President Judge Charles Saylor postponed DUI pleas scheduled for Monday.
"Today's proceedings related to DUIs were continued in order for everyone to better understand the ramifications of the US Supreme Court's recent ruling," Saylor said.
The Pennsylvania DUI Association, of Harrisburg, referred all questions to Traffic Safety Resource prosecutor David Drumheller, of the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association.
"I think every county is doing its best to put together a plan of action to support law enforcement efforts," Drumheller said. "This is just another thing law enforcement has to deal with and we will move forward."
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