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Missouri vs. McNeely U.S. Supreme Court Decision

On April 17th, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling regarding blood tests. Now, people who are suspected to be alcohol-intoxicated while driving are not allowed to be taken to the hospitals for blood tests if they refuse to give a sample. This decision came about due to the case Missouri vs. McNeely; McNeely was a suspected drunk driver who refused a breath test and a blood sample. He reportedly failed the field sobriety test and the state trooper in Missouri took him to the hospital and ordered a blood test. The state trooper did not have a warrant and the suspect refused the test. The new Supreme Court ruling states that a warrant is now needed in order to collect blood from the suspect without their consent. Additionally, Justice Sotomayor wrote that a warrantless drawing of blood could take place if the officer is unable to get a warrant in the same amount of time that it takes to drive the suspect to a medical facility.

The Fourth Amendment requires the police to obtain a warrant to search for evidence in a suspect's house. Relatedly, it was decided in the court that the rate of alcohol metabolizing in the suspect's system does not grant an exception to this amendment. The Supreme Court does not see the dissipation of alcohol in blood over time as an "exigent circumstance." An exigent circumstance means that it is an emergency situation that can override the Fourth Amendment protections against the unwarranted searches and seizures. An example of this type of circumstance is a situation where law enforcement is preventing destruction of evidence. If a suspected person in possession of drugs is going into their house and the officer thinks the suspect will dispose of the drugs, then the officer can enter the house under the exigent circumstances doctrine and seize the drugs. This type of doctrine does not cover the seizing of blood from a suspected drunk driver because it is not an emergency situation and this invasive procedure requires a warrant.

Local law enforcement in Racine County, Wisconsin responded to this ruling by calling it a 'hiccup' and ensuring the community that this would not hinder their aggressive OWI enforcement. At this point they are looking to make an "on-call" judge who would specifically handle these warrants when there are suspected drunken drivers, but that is not yet in place. As of now they have three judges who are willing to be awakened at any point in the night to handle warrant requests, so that OWI enforcement remains solid in their county.

There are some areas of the ruling that are under question. The exception where law enforcement does not need to get a warrant when it could take "too long" to get one, leading to an affected blood-alcohol concentration level, was not clear. Some see this as an order for officers to just be reasonable in their decisions of collecting unwarranted blood samples. Others see this as unacceptable and the police should always need a warrant to collect a sample of a suspect's blood. This had led to controversy because there is not a concise definition for what reasonable is and some do not accept the idea that reasonable judgment should be a part of the decision at all.

If you have questions about a blood sample you recently had taken or are interested in more details about the ruling, contact the Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse. We would be happy to discuss your situation and the ruling with you further. We also provide a free case evaluation if you would like to discuss your case with a Dublin criminal defense attorney.