Bloodletting could be in store for Mississippi drivers at DUI checkpoints

Illustration by Steve Wilson

Illustration by Steve Wilson

Vampire movies, books and TV series are all of the rage these days. Guess theMississippi Highway Safety Patrol wanted to get in on the act.

Over the long Labor Day weekend, the patrol ran a no-refusal DUI checkpoint in Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi. In a no-refusal checkpoint, a driver who refuses a sobriety test — either a breath test or a standard field sobriety test — could be compelled to undergo a blood test.

A judge is either on site or on call to rule on probable cause and can issue a warrant for the test. A certified phlebotomist is at the ready, and blood is drawn at the checkpoint.

According to state law, drivers in Mississippi give their “implied consent” to a blood or breath sample if an officer lawfully requests it. A search warrant becomes necessary if a driver refuses, and a first-time refusal results in a 90-day license suspension.

The Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol did not return repeated requests for comment.

Ronald Wright, a law professor and the associate dean for academic affairs at Wake Forest University, says the tactic is not in keeping with the spirit of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures.

“State statutes might give the police certain authority in a traffic setting that they wouldn’t have in other settings,” Wright said. “One thing that worries me is typically a warrant is based on probable cause. Probable cause, in normal doctrine, cannot be based on refusal to cooperate. That’s typically treated as a refusal to give further evidence. We’re allowed to be uncooperative, and police are not supposed to draw any inferences from that.

“To the extent that a judge is issuing a normal warrant and then they’re using the fact someone says no as evidence, I think that’s contrary to traditional Fourth Amendment practice.”

John Bowman, communications director for the National Motorists Association, said about 30 states are performing similar checkpoints, usually on holiday weekends. To Bowman, the tests are an egregious offense to drivers’ constitutional rights.

In addition to the Fourth Amendment, Section 26 of the Mississippi Constitution reads that a suspect “shall not be compelled to give evidence against himself.”

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By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

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