Supreme Court questions warrantless DWI blood tests

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Supreme Court DUI law - Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias, LLCTyler McNeely was arrested in Missouri after a state trooper pulled him over for speeding and swerving. McNeeley failed the field sobriety tests and refused to take the Breathalyzer test. After his refusal, the arresting officer drove him to a nearby hospital, where McNeeley had his blood drawn while handcuffed. And though the officer undoubtedly had enough evidence to get a warrant to draw the suspect’s blood, he chose not to. The results of the blood test showed that his BAC was .154 percent, nearly twice the legal limit in Missouri and all 50 states, and McNeeley was charged with drunk driving, according to the Times-Picayune article chronicling his case.

Should police be allowed to draw someone’s blood, without their consent and without a warrant? This question has sparked national controversy as McNeeley’s case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Missouri’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that threw out the blood test as evidence, stating that the warrantless blood test violated McNeeley’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court’s ruling is in accordance with nearly 25 states in the U.S. that prohibit drawing blood from DWI suspects without a warrant.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the issue. The court heard arguments in January from lawyers representing the state of Missouri and representing McNeeley. Missouri’s lawyers argued that “police are facing the certain destruction of blood-alcohol evidence,” referring to the gradual dissipation of alcohol from the blood over time. The Supreme Court justices seemed hesitant to wholeheartedly accept this argument, however. While the justices stressed that they didn’t want to delay the collection of evidence, they also expressed skepticism over the idea that the intrusive process of drawing blood need not be done with a judge’s approval. In particular, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “Why shouldn’t that determination be made case by case? And if it would have taken too long, then it’s okay without a warrant. If it wouldn’t have taken that long, it’s bad.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by summer of this year. The justices’ decision will have a significant impact on DWI procedure.

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Categorized as Blog, DUI, DWI

By George Vourvoulias

George is a founding member and managing member of Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias L.L.C., a New Orleans law firm. George concentrates his practice in maritime personal injury, construction litigation, personal injury, workers' compensation, medical malpractice, and DUI defense. George Vourvoulias's Google+ Profile