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Court rejects no-warrant DWI blood tests

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police usually must try to obtain a search warrant from a judge before ordering blood tests for drunken-driving suspects.

The justices sided with a Missouri man who was taken to a hospital, subjected to a blood test without a warrant and found to have nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood is generally not sufficient reason to jettison the requirement that police get a judge's approval before drawing blood.

The ruling will not affect most cases in New York, where the law already requires police to get warrants before drawing blood from anyone who has not given his consent, said a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota.

However, the ruling may affect some cases in which the suspect is unconscious or otherwise unable to give his consent at the time his blood is drawn, said Garden City defense lawyer Brian Griffin.

A spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said her office is reviewing the decision.

Missouri and the Obama administration were asking the court to endorse a blanket rule that would have allowed the tests without a warrant. Eight of the nine justices rejected that plea. Only Justice Clarence Thomas would have held that a warrantless blood test does not violate a suspect's constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court did not offer much guidance Wednesday about when police may dispense with a warrant. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a separate opinion, said a later case may give the court the opportunity to say more on the subject.

With Ann Givens

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