A few weeks ago justices heard Missouri v. McNeely, a landmark case that could end several decades worth of uncertainty over the constitutionality of warrantless blood tests. The decision is so important that many experts believe the resolution to the case could spell changes for DUI laws across the country.
While we’ll have to wait months to hear the ruling on the case, the justices appeared to tip their hands during oral argument. The majority of the Court appeared to believe that while the dangers of drunk driving are serious, they do not trump the protections afforded to citizens by the Fourth Amendment.
The case began when a suspected Missouri drunk driver, Tyler McNeely, was pulled over by a policeman after swerving down a road late at night. McNeely took and failed several field sobriety tests administered by the arresting officer and then declined to submit to a breath test. The officer then chose to drive McNeely to the local hospital to have his blood forcibly drawn rather than wait and get a warrant for the blood draw. While at the hospital, McNeely was strapped to a hospital bed as the nurse drew his blood.
The results of the blood test showed that McNeely was clearly intoxicated, with a BAC nearly twice Missouri’s legal limit. Despite this evidence, a lower court threw out the results of the blood test. The case was eventually appealed up to the state’s Supreme Court which concurred with the lower court judge. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed that the warrantless blood test was unconstitutional and qualified as a violation of McNeely’s Fourth Amendment right to freedom from search and seizure. The Missouri Supreme Court held that police officers need to first obtain a warrant before taking blood from a suspected drunk driver unless the delay needed to procure the warrant will result in harm to someone’s life or destruction of evidence.
Those who support the officer’s actions are arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that destruction of evidence is all but guaranteed in drunk driving cases and that warrantless tests should thus be allowed. Supporters say that any delay testing a person’s blood allows for the alcohol to dissipate. Those opposed to warrantless blood tests point out that warrants can be obtained quickly, especially in cases where ample evidence of intoxication exists.
The justices appeared unconvinced by Missouri’s argument that warrantless blood draws should be allowed. Justice Sotomayor asked how it could be considered reasonable to allow the police to stick a needle into someone’s body without a warrant. Others agreed that taking someone’s blood amounted to a government seizure that ought to be protected against by the Fourth Amendment.
If you’ve had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri DWI defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis DWI law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: “Missouri v. McNeely: The Loss of Bodily Integrity in an Emerging Police State,” by John Whitehead, published at HuffingtonPost.com.