-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
This case, recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, involves a Missouri state highway patrolman who stopped McNeely’s truck for speeding at 2:08 a.m. The officer noted signs of intoxication and ordered McNeely out of the vehicle and performed a field sobriety test. McNeely performed the tests poorly and was placed under arrest. McNeely refused to consent to a breathalyzer test and was driven to a local hospital where blood was drawn without consent and without a warrant. The results of the blood test showed that McNeely’s blood-alcohol ratio was over the legal limit.
McNeely moved to have the blood test results suppressed as a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and the trial court sustained the motion. The case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court (en banc) and the trial court’s decision was upheld. The Missouri Supreme Court held:
Defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of his person was violated, and the trial court’s judgment sustaining Defendant’s motion to suppress is affirmed.
The question before the U.S. Supreme Court is: “Can blood be drawn based solely on an officer’s authority?”
Refusal to consent to a blood test can result in suspension of one’s driver’s license for one year. However, with the results of a blood test, a criminal conviction for drunk driving is almost assured. The body’s natural dissipation of alcohol makes obtaining a warrant a time-critical exercise if the officer wants to obtain the evidence.
The Missouri Supreme Court noted the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Schmerber v. California. In that case the Court ruled by a five-to-four vote that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment for police who lack a warrant to order the taking of a blood sample from an individual involved in an auto accident and who was suspected of being drunk at the time. In Schmerber the Court wrote: “Search warrants are ordinarily required for searches of dwellings, and, absent an emergency, no less could be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned.” The Court also wrote that the Schmerber judgement was reached “only on the facts of the present record.”
While trying to determine a Supreme Court vote based on the Justices’ questions during oral argument is dicey, many Court watchers predict that the Court is not going to let police across the nation order blood samples — on their own authority. Justice Scalia said “once we say that you don’t need a warrant, you know, even if things improve, the game’s up, right?”
During oral argument, the Justices were concerned with what would constitute a reasonable amount of time to obtain a warrant for a blood test and that during this time the evidence is being lost. The State claims this loss of evidence was an exigent circumstance and doesn’t require a warrant. There was a discussion as to what would constitute an exigent circumstance in a DUI case.