U.S. Supreme Court considering arguments on forced DUI blood tests
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments January 9 to decide if police officers may force a suspected drunk driver to submit to a blood test without first obtaining a search warrant to do so, and at first blush, it appears that the justices may be leaning toward putting the kibosh on the practice.
At the center of the argument is the Fourth Amendment and whether being stuck with a needle constitutes an illegal search and thus violates the ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. When questioning the attorneys at the January 9 hearing, it seemed clear that several of the justices believe that taking blood is an intrusive process, and many of their queries to attorneys revolved around the amount of time that it would take to get a warrant.
The matter springs from a 2010 case in Missouri, in which a state policeman pulled over Tyler McNeely for allegedly speeding and weaving. The officer had McNeely perform roadside sobriety tests after noting that McNeely’s breath smelled of alcohol and that his eyes were bloodshot. McNeely was taken to the hospital and asked to submit to a blood test. When he refused, the officer ordered the blood test anyway. McNeeley’s blood-alcohol level did eventually prove to be above the legal limit
After he was charged with driving under the influence, McNeely moved to suppress the evidence on constitutional grounds because his blood was taken without a warrant. The trial court agreed but the state appealed, arguing that the risk of a blood alcohol level decreasing over time represented an “exigent circumstance.” (The existence of an exigent circumstance, in criminal procedure, allows police officers to enter a home without a search warrant — or if they have a so-called knock-and-announce warrant, without knocking and waiting for refusal — in situations in which evidence could be destroyed.)
The case eventually wound up in the Missouri Supreme Court, then the U.S. Supreme Court
On January 9, the Supreme Court justices pondered aloud about the amount of time that would be considered reasonable to obtain a search warrant in such cases, and exactly what might constitute an exigent circumstance if police were unable to obtain a warrant within a designated time period.
In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out that 25 states prohibit warrantless blood draws in routine DUI cases. (In Colorado, police are allowed to take a DUI suspect’s blood without permission if there is an accident and cause to believe serious injury and/or death is involved)
A decision on the matter is not expected for some time; the average time from argument to decision is just under three months.