In what can only be seen as an overwhelming victory for the 4th Amendment, this week the United States Supreme Court decided Missouri v. McNeely which involved the issue of whether or not law enforcement can force a blood draw following a drunk driving arrest without following the warrant requirements of the 4th amendment. In the ruling the Court sided with the defendant who had been subjected to a blood test without a warrant. The warrantless blood draw revealed him to be nearly twice the legal limit. Justice Sotomayor, writing for the majority held that forced extraction of a person’s blood is “an invasion of bodily integrity [that] implicates an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy” and, absent some emergency, should not be allowed unless a judge has found probable cause to justify the intrusion. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood is generally not sufficient to dispense with the 4th amendments requirements that the police first obtain a warrant before forcing a blood draw. The syllabus of the case is set forth below:
Respondent McNeely was stopped by a Missouri police officer for speed- ing and crossing the centerline. After declining to take a breath test to measure his blood alcohol concentration (BAC), he was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for blood testing. The officer never at- tempted to secure a search warrant. McNeely refused to consent to the blood test, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a sam- ple. McNeely’s BAC tested well above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). He moved to suppress the blood test result, arguing that taking his blood without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court agreed, con- cluding that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because, apart from the fact that McNeely’s blood alcohol was dissipating, no circumstances suggested that the officer faced an emergency. The State Supreme Court affirmed, relying on Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757, in which this Court upheld a DWI suspect’s warrantless blood test where the officer “might reasonably have believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant, under the circum- stances, threatened ‘the destruction of evidence,’” id., at 770. This case, the state court found, involved a routine DWI investigation where no factors other than the natural dissipation of blood alcohol suggested that there was an emergency, and, thus, the nonconsensu- al warrantless test violated McNeely’s right to be free from unrea- sonable searches of his person.
DUI attorneys were hoping that court would overturn the Schmerber decision, but the Court provided a ruling that relies upon the circumstances of case instead of articulating a bright line rule. Prosecutors urged the Court to do away with the warrant requirement altogether. Only one dissenting opinion, by Justice Thomas, upheld the most pro-prosecutorial argument that the nature of dissipating alcohol in the bloodstream never requires a law enforcement officer to obtain a warrant. The following quote is from Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU national legal director, who represented Tyler McNeely before the Supreme Court:
"We know from experience that drunk-driving laws can be strictly enforced without abandoning constitutional rights. Today's decision appropriately recognizes what half the states have already demonstrated – that maintaining highway safety does not require sacrificing personal privacy."
None of the Court’s four opinions — a majority, two separate opinions supporting the result, and one dissenting opinion — said that officers investigating drunk-driving cases must always get a warrant. But the majority did say that the Constitution does not allow police to get a blood sample without ever having to get a warrant, in any case (as the dissenting opinion suggested). So that sets up the case-by-case approach, suggesting that getting a warrant very likely would remove the doubt.
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