The Supreme Court gave word earlier this week that it would hear a case that concerned the power of police officers to give involuntary blood tests to those arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. The case could be an important one given that it will impact the reading of the Fourth Amendment protections regarding search and seizures and their relationship to forced blood tests.
The case name is Missouri v. McNeely and began as a traffic stop back in 2010. The officer pulled the man, Tyler McNeely, over early in the morning for a routine speeding violation when the officer began to suspect that McNeely was intoxicated. The officer requested that McNeely perform several field sobriety tests which he failed. McNeely then refused to submit to a blood alcohol test after being asked by the officer. After refusing, McNeely was taken to a clinic where the officer ordered a medical technician to draw his blood without his consent. The test results showed that he was indeed intoxicated.
Before trial McNeely’s lawyer attempted to suppress the involuntarily taken blood sample, saying that the arresting officer never received a search warrant authorizing the seizure. The prosecution vehemently disagreed, and said that the officer was authorized to take the test immediately because had he failed to do so the alcohol in McNeely’s system would have diminished quickly as it was metabolized.
The lower court judge sided with the defense attorney and ordered the suppression of the blood test. This decision was reversed by a state appeals court and then reversed again by the Missouri Supreme Court which affirmed the decision of the lower court. The Missouri Supreme Court said that the officer was within his right to order the blood test given the exigent circumstances of the rapidly diminishing alcohol.
Others have argued that the circumstances do not truly rise to the level of emergency, there was no terrible accident, no crime scene was in danger of destruction. State courts from across the country are split on the issue, with some saying special circumstances are needed to raise the situation to the level justifying a warrantless search. The High Court will weigh in and clarify the important issue sometime early next year.
This is a decision that is well worth watching from the criminal defense lawyers perspective and could have a huge impact on future DWI cases across the country where a blood test was taken without the driver’s consent. The issue has usually come down to the existence of “exigent circumstances”. We have previously discussed Minnesota cases that have addressed this issue of warrantless blood draws in DWI related cases. In those cases, the Minnesota courts have upheld these types of blood draws or tests without consent with the overwhelming reason being the natural dissipation of a persons blood alcohol level. It will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court analyzes this question and reaches its decision.
Source: “Forced blood test for a drunk-driving suspect? Supreme Court to step in,” by Warren Richey, published at CSMonitor.com.