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The use of search warrants in Virginia drunk-driving cases

Most people, whether they've had a run in with the law or not, know that our legal system is incredibly complex. Filled with thousands of statutes and regulations spanning across state and federal jurisdiction lines, it's not always easy to keep everything straight or know when you are violating the law.

There is one set of laws though that just about everyone here in Leesburg knows and it includes a person's constitutional rights. When it comes to criminal cases, most people are familiar with their Fourth Amendment rights, particularly against unlawful searches and seizures. But how does this law apply to drunk-driving cases? Let's take a look.

Here in Virginia, police and law enforcement agencies must secure a search warrant before entering a person's premises or vehicle for investigative purposes. As you may also know, search warrants are also required for blood draws in our state the rules for which the U.S. Supreme Court clarified in a decision two years ago.

In order to obtain a search warrant in Virginia, an officer or agency needs to have probable cause. If no cause is given, a warrant may not be issued. And if one is not issued, then the officer or agency does not have the right to search the property or person without their expressed permission. The officer or agency also may not seize anything that could be used as evidence in a case without first obtaining a search warrant.

Just as our Leesburg readers must adhere to the law, so too do police officers and the agencies they work for. Because a person's freedoms are on the line, it's important for law enforcement officers and agencies to respect a person's Fourth Amendment right during criminal investigations and properly secure search warrants. That's because failing to do so can lead to a mistrial and a dismissal of charges.

Sources: court.state.va.us, "Magistrate Manual, Chapter 5: Search Warrant Procedures," Accessed July 27, 2015

The Washington Post, "Supreme Court limits warrantless blood tests for drunken driving suspects," Robert Barnes, April 17, 2013

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