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Mr. Tumelty represented Helena Hendricks, who was charged with first degree murder in Atlantic County Superior Court. The defendant faced a number of additional charges, including armed robbery, conspiracy and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose. At the conclusion of a jury trial that lasted three weeks, the defendant was found "not guilty" of all charges.

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Supreme Court voices concerns over warrantless DUI blood draws

The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case involving an alleged drunk driver that may have far reaching implications for constitutional law. Cape May readers may recall last October’s discussion about the Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments about whether or not a warrantless blood draw following a DWI arrest violates a person’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Comments from the justices suggest that they may be reconsidering the meaning of a prior ruling that authorized warrantless blood draws under “exigent circumstances.”

The case before the high court stemmed from a challenge to a warrantless blood draw in the state of Missouri. The suspected driver had been pulled over for speeding. After admitting to having consumed alcohol, the driver refused to submit to a breath test. The arresting officer transported the driver to a hospital and ordered a forcible blood draw without first obtaining a warrant.

The states have been evenly divided about requiring a warrant prior to an involuntary blood draw ever since the Supreme Court’s 1966 decision that authorized the forcible seizure of evidence of intoxication whenever the inability to obtain a warrant makes it likely that evidence will be lost due to the body’s natural processing of alcohol.

Some justices expressed concern about the constitutional implications of allowing police to obtain blood samples without a warrant. Their consideration involved discussions about setting a time limit beyond which the inability to obtain a warrant could be considered exigent circumstances.

Justice Alito, a former federal attorney in New Jersey, felt that time limits would not be practical outside of an urban setting because it might be impossible to reach a magistrate judge in the early hours of the morning.

New Jersey law does not require police to obtain a warrant for a non-consensual blood draw when a person refuses to submit to a breath test. However, police are required to follow certain procedures and the state must establish justification for the forcible blood draw in order for it to be admissible as evidence of driving while intoxicated.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Court Wary on Warrantless DUI Tests,” Jess Bravin, Jan. 9, 2013

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