Supreme Court to Take On Warrantless DUI Blood Draws

by dave on September 27, 2012

in Criminal Justice

UPDATE: The ruling is out, and it is a good decision!

Should the police be allowed to forcibly take your blood without a warrant? A growing number of agencies across the country believe so. But the Supreme Court isn’t so sure. They have announced that they will take up a case concerning warrantless and involuntary blood draws and make the final determination.

The case they’ve decided to hear involves a Missouri man, Tyler McNeely, who was pulled over early one morning for speeding and was suspected of drunk driving. Following a poorly executed field sobriety test, the officer asked McNeely to submit to a breath test. Like many others who know their rights—he refused. McNeely was then transported to a medical clinic where his blood was drawn against his permission. He was found to be legally intoxicated and was charged with DWI.

In this particular case, the conviction would have been McNeely’s third, leading to up to 4 years in prison. The trial court judge sided with his defense lawyers and blocked the admission of the blood test results—saying there was no pressing need to get the test without a warrant. In other words, the cop should have got a warrant first—making the “fruit” (blood test results) of the unlawful seizure (warrantless blood test) inadmissible in court.

The Appeals Court disagreed, saying that waiting for a warrant would have allowed McNeely’s body to metabolize the alcohol, decreasing the test results with every moment that passed. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed their decision, determining that a warrant was needed. Now the U.S. Supreme Court will have their say.

The crux of the case comes down to whether or not blood-alcohol and the “destruction of evidence” that happens naturally as the body metabolizes the alcohol is enough justification for skipping the warrant. The court will determine if this amounts to what is called “exigent circumstances,” or circumstances that create an urgent situation, where waiting for a warrant would result in the destruction of evidence.

State courts have been split on the issue—with Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota determining warrantless blood tests are OK. In Utah and Iowa, however, the mere natural metabolism of alcohol isn’t enough to warrant a forced blood draw.

The case will hit the high court at the beginning of next year, and will provide the final say on this important 4th Amendment issue.

If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime and you believe the search was unlawful—that it violated your protection against unlawful searches and seizures as set forth by the 4th Amendment—we may be able to help. Whether it’s a simple drug possession charge or something far more serious, we can put you in touch with a local criminal defense lawyer. 

photo by: fairfaxcounty

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