Supreme Court to hear case on DUI Forced Blood Draws

By Peek & Toland on January 9, 2013

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments today on whether a police officer must obtain a warrant before forcing a DWI or DUI suspect to a blood draw. Under current law, the Supreme Court has found that police officers are usually required to obtain a warrant for intrusions into the body, like blood draws. However, the Supreme Court has also stated that there are certain exceptions to this rule, including exigent circumstances, or emergencies. The current case before the Supreme Court has questioned how broad the definition of exigent circumstance may be.

In the facts of the current case, Tyler McNeely was driving 56 mph in a 45 mph zone at 2:00 A.M. in Missouri. McNeely was pulled over and the arresting officer administered four field sobriety tests all of which McNeely failed. When requested to take a breathalyzer test, McNeely refused. The officer then took McNeely to the hospital for a blood draw, where he refused again. Although the officer had been able to obtain search warrants in the past without difficulty, the officer did not attempt to get a search warrant. The officer ordered the blood draw without a warrant. The blood draw results indicated that McNeely’s blood alcohol level was above the legal limit. McNeely was charged with driving while under the influence.

In court, the trial court threw out the blood test because it was obtained without a warrant. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, citing that there were no events that indicated exigent circumstances to interfere with obtaining the warrant. The Missouri Supreme Court pointed out that there was no accident to investigate, no injury requiring medical attention, and a judge was on call to review a warrant application quickly. Thus, the Missouri Supreme Court determined under those circumstances there was no reason the officer should not have obtained a warrant from a suspect who refused a blood draw.

The State of Missouri appealed the Missouri Supreme Court holding arguing that alcohol dissipates in the bloodstream over time and that alone constitutes an emergency situation that justifies a forced blood draw. The State argues that the best evidence of the crime is the suspect’s blood and by delaying the process of the blood draw for the purpose of a search warrant, the Court is allowing the best evidence of the crime to dissipate and be destroyed.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union, who represents McNeely, argues that alcohol dissipates over a matter of hours and there was no emergency that would have interfered with obtaining a warrant quickly.

Today the Supreme Court will hear both arguments and weigh in on the definition of exigent circumstances.

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