The United States Supreme court recently heard oral arguments in a case that will affect drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures. Specifically, the issue in the case, Missouri v. McNeely is whether law enforcement must obtain a warrant before ordering a blood test for alcohol.
Background of Case
The facts of the case began in October 2010 when a Missouri highway patrol officer stopped Tyler McNeely for speeding. During the stop, the officer suspected that McNeely had been drinking. As a result, the officer ordered McNeely to perform a series of field sobriety tests, all of which McNeely failed.
Having failed the field tests, the officer asked McNeely to submit to a Breathalyzer test, which he refused. As a result, the officer transported him to a hospital and asked him to submit to a blood test, which he also refused. The officer then ordered the hospital staff to take a blood sample without McNeely’s consent, even though a warrant was not first obtained. The test showed that McNeely’s blood alcohol concentration was more than twice the legal limit. As a result, McNeely was charged with driving under the influence (DUI).
Before trial, McNeely’s attorney made a motion to exclude the results of the blood test, because it was conducted without his client’s consent and without a warrant. The trial court agreed, but its decision was overturned on appeal. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that a warrant was necessary and threw out the blood evidence. The State of Missouri appealed the issue to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision will likely depend on its interpretation of its own 1966 decision, Schmerber v. California, which the Missouri Court of Appeals relied on to overturn the trial court. In this decision, the Supreme Court upheld the admissibility of a blood sample without a warrant. The court ruled that a warrant was not always necessary, as the blood alcohol concentration in the bloodstream diminishes over time as the alcohol is metabolized. Therefore, police are justified in collecting a sample without a warrant, as any delay would lead to a possible destruction of evidence.
At oral argument, justices seemed skeptical of Missouri’s attempt to take blood evidence without a warrant, which may signal that the court may overrule its own previous decision in Schmerber. However, the justices’ conduct during oral argument does not always indicate how they will ultimately vote. The decision is expected later this spring.
Consult a criminal defense attorney
If you or a loved one is charged with driving under the influence, contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can assess your case and ensure that your rights are protected.