JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri prosecutors say they think a new state drunken driving law gives police the authority to take blood samples from reluctant suspects without a warrant.
The guidance came during a presentation organized by the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services for law officers and prosecutors. Officials across the state received training on Friday in handling drunken driving cases.
Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who led the discussion during a session in Jefferson City, said the new drunken driving law seems to permit the taking of blood without a warrant in certain circumstances. But Richardson said he still advises law officers in his county to seek a warrant until prosecutors find a favorable case to present the issue for the courts to decide.
"There is a good number of people that believe that as of today ... upon the arrest of someone for driving while intoxicated or for drugs, you have the authority under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to take that person and have a blood sample drawn — even if they refuse," said Richardson, who noted that some disagree with that interpretation.
The law, which was approved this year, seeks to steer first-time offenders toward alcohol treatment programs instead of prison and to ensure that repeat offenders are punished severely.
When the law was being drafted, prosecutors pushed for the right for police to take blood samples without a warrant from suspected drunken drivers. But state senators removed a provision that would have allowed blood to be drawn without a warrant from drivers who refuse breath tests.
Prosecutors point out that the drunken driving law that took effect in August dropped a prohibition on performing tests if the motorist refuses. And four decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in a California case upheld the taking of a blood sample without a warrant or the permission of the suspect if there are exigent circumstances.
Richardson said he believes lawmakers had a purpose for removing Missouri's testing prohibition.
"The Legislature did that for a reason and that reason was to allow the warrant-less drawing of blood on a person that you have arrested for driving while drugged or intoxicated," he said.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who helped get the drunken driving legislation passed, said lawmakers were not authorizing blood samples to be taken without a warrant. Schaefer, R-Columbia, said lawmakers wanted to clarify that law officers can seek a warrant to draw blood even if a motorist refuses.
The drunken driving training was paid for by Anheuser-Busch and broadcast to about 1,500 officials in Missouri, New Mexico and Texas. It focused on issues in drunken driving cases such as techniques for handling blood samples.
Organizers in Missouri said the training was designed to update local law enforcement about changes in Missouri's drunken driving laws and encourage the collection of scientific data to help with prosecutions. The sessions involved local seminars and a discussion among three Texas officials that was broadcast to officials in all three states.