On April 17, 2013 the Supreme Court delivered its opinion in Missouri v. McNeely, a major decision regarding driving under the influence jurisprudence. The judgment of the Missouri Supreme Court was affirmed in a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor.
A Missouri state patrol officer observed a vehicle driven by Tyler McNeely speeding and swerving. After stopping the vehicle driven by McNeely, the officer smelled alcohol on McNeely’s breath, bloodshot eyes, unsteadiness, and slurred speech. McNeely also admitted to the officer that he had a couple of drinks. McNeely did not perform well on his field sobriety tests and refused to take a preliminary breath test. He was arrested for driving under the influence and refused to submit to a breathalyzer test at the police station. McNeely was then transported to a hospital for a blood draw. At the hospital he refused to consent to his blood being drawn. Despite refusing the blood draw, a nurse took his blood sample. McNeely’s blood level was above the legal limit. At trial McNeely attempted to suppress the results of the blood draw because the warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw, was an unreasonable search, violating his Fourth Amendment rights.
For decades the law concerning warrantless blood draws was controlled by Schmerber v. California. The Schmerber case was looked at as a categorical exception for the need of a warrant in driving under the influence cases involving blood draws. In McNeely the Court held that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant. In other words the Supreme Court held the fact your body absorbs alcohol does not always allow the government to draw your blood without a warrant.
In McNeely the Court held that to determine if there was in fact an exigent circumstance which would allow the government to draw the blood of a suspect without a warrant requires a totality of the circumstances test. The Court outlined some of the circumstances which may be considered in this analysis, including the time it would require to obtain a warrant, the dissipation of alcohol in a suspect’s bloodstream, and the availability of a magistrate.
The Court in McNeely did away with the categorical exception to the Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement for the need of a warrant for a blood draw in driving under the influence investigations. The Court held that a totality-of-the-circumstances test has been in place since Schmerber when considering exigency under the emergency search warrant exception. The Court noted blood testing in DUI investigations is different than other destruction of evidence cases and the natural dissipation of alcohol in the human body by itself will not by itself be considered an exigent circumstance.
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