This is a case that all DWI defense lawyers, not only here in Minnesota, but across the country are following very closely as the outcome could have far reaching implications on drunk driving cases.
According to a recent article by Mark Sherman of the Associated Press, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a landmark case that will decide whether states are allowed to dispense with the requirement that a warrant must be obtained before taking a sample of a suspect’s blood.
The case involves an incident in Missouri where an officer who witnessed him swerving down a road late at night stopped suspected drunk driver, Tyler McNeely. McNeely refused to submit to a breath test to determine the alcohol in his system and went on to fail a series of field sobriety tests. The officer then decided to take Tyler directly to a hospital to have his blood drawn despite having enough evidence to get a warrant for the blood. The whole time McNeely was in the hospital he was handcuffed while a technician took his blood.
Though the blood results ended up showing a level of intoxication well above Missouri’s legal limit (.154 as opposed to the limit of .08), a lower court threw out the results. This move was supported by the Missouri Supreme Court which said that the warrantless blood test was unconstitutional given a violation of the defendant’s right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. The state’s High Court said that officers need a warrant to take blood from a suspect unless the delay needed to obtain the warrant would threaten someone’s life or result in destruction of evidence.
The Obama administration and Missouri lawmakers are now attempting to convince the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court that destruction of evidence is guaranteed in such drunk driving cases if the warrant requirement is not dropped. Lawyers in favor of warrantless searches say that any delay testing a drunk driver’s blood results in a loss of evidence as alcohol quickly dissipates in that person’s system. Rather than possible destruction of evidence, they claim this is certain destruction.
Justices appeared unconvinced by this argument and worried about condoning such a high level of government intrusion. The image of an officer handcuffing a person to a hospital bed while blood was forcefully drawn from their arm worried several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts.
Nearly half of all states currently prohibit warrantless testing of suspects’ blood, but the issue is important given an increasing push to lower the number of deaths associated with drunk driving that occur each year. Advocates of stricter law enforcement control say that warrantless blood tests are an important tool to help convict drunk drivers and keep them off the nation’s roadways.
Lawyers in favor of the warrant requirement argued that the Supreme Court has already made clear warrants are required for urine samples in other contexts and that it should be no different for blood tests. They say that warrants can be obtained quickly, especially in cases where there is ample evidence that a suspect has been drinking. Following proper procedure upholds the rights enshrined in the Constitution and ensures that innocent people are not subjected to the trauma of a forced blood test at the hands of the police.
Source: “Court wary of warrantless blood tests in DUI cases,” by Mark Sherman; Associated Press, published at NewsObserver.com.