Court to Rule on DUI Blood Test

Court to Rule on DUI Blood Test

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court has heard arguments over whether police were within the law in having a driver's blood tested for alcohol without a search warrant.

The driver was convicted, but the conviction was overturned by an appeals court. Prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court.

In a hearing before the high court Monday, an attorney for Heather Jo Rodriguez said the lack of a search warrant violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Bates argued that police are excused from having to get a warrant when "exigent circumstances" exist, and the dissipation of alcohol from the blood is an urgent situation.

Four law enforcement organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state's position, which Bates said is backed by a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a warrantless blood draw is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Lori Seppi, representing Rodriguez, argued that police had ample time to get a warrant in this case. She said there were numerous people able to sign search warrants in the courthouse that was only blocks from the hospital where Rodriguez was being treated.

Rodriguez was charged in 2001 with third-degree felony automobile homicide after her SUV turned in front of a school bus and her passenger, Terry Lee Stewart, was killed.

Rodriguez failed to get a trial court to suppress evidence from the blood draw at the hospital and pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal.

The blood draw showed Rodriguez's blood alcohol level was nearly five times the legal limit.

Rodriguez, now 38, received a suspended sentenced of zero to five years in prison, violated her probation and was imprisoned. She is not now behind bars.

Should the Supreme Court decide the case must go back to a lower court, it will return to the Utah Court of Appeals, where there is an unresolved issue over whether police had probable cause in the case.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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