US Supreme Court rules in DUI blood draw case

In April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Missouri v. McNeely, a case dealing with the issue of whether the Fourth Amendment requires police officers to try to get warrants before drawing blood from those suspected of driving under the influence who refuse chemical tests. In a 8-1 decision, the Court held that there is no special exception from the warrant requirement for DUI blood draws.

Lower court threw out blood test

In 2010 police officers stopped a driver for speeding at about 2:00 am. According to the police report, when the officers spoke with the man they noted that he demonstrated “telltale signs of intoxication” such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and an alcohol smell on his breath. The police performed field sobriety tests on the man and then arrested him for suspicion of DUI.

The man refused to take a chemical test to check his blood alcohol concentration, so officers transported the man to the hospital, where hospital staff drew the man’s blood. The blood drawoccurred approximately 25 minutes after police initially stopped the driver. The results showed that the man’s BAC was 0.154.

At the man’s trial, he argued that the blood test results should be excluded from evidence because the police officer failed to obtain a warrant prior to compelling the blood draw. He argued that a blood draw is a search for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment, and the officer should have tried to get a warrant.

The state countered that the situation fell under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The state said that all DUI blood draws are exempt from the warrant requirement because the evidence in the case – namely the alcohol in the suspect’s system – decays rapidly.

The trial court suppressed the blood sample, and both the appellate court and the state supreme court upheld the ruling.

No blanket exception from warrant requirement

The U.S. Supreme Court did not agree that DUI blood draws are always exempt from the warrant requirement, despite the fact that the body’s metabolizing alcohol may cause the police to lose evidence. The Court instead stressed that whether obtaining a warrant is reasonable is something that needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis considering the totality of the circumstances. One of the major considerations that officers should assess is the delay involved in obtaining a warrant.

The Court also noted that technological advances have made it much easier for police officers to obtain warrants, so there would be no hardship for police to do so. Many police forces have access to electronic warrant applications, the ability to telephone judges directly and can even email warrant applications to judges’ iPads.

Talk to a lawyer

State officials take DUI offenses very seriously, and do not seem to care whether they violate Constitutional rights when prosecuting such cases. If you are facing DUI charges, seek the assistance of a seasoned criminal defense attorney skilled in handling DUI cases.

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