No Routine Forced Blood Draws Says High Court

Today, the United States Supreme Court decided Missouri v. McNeely, No. 11-1425,  and held that police cannot force a blood draw without a warrant in a routine DUI case.

The court’s opinion, authored by Justice Sotomayer, held that the normal dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not create an exigent circumstance that would allow for a police officer to forcefully take a person’s blood without a warrant.

In its majority opinion, the Court discussed Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757 (1966), where the Court upheld a warrantless blood test of an individual arrested for DUI because the police officer “might reasonably have believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant, under the circumstances, threatened the destruction of evidence.”

The Court recognized that this case is different, and presented the question as to whether the body’s natural metabolism of alcohol in the bloodstream presents a per se exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing. We The Court concluded that, consistent with general Fourth Amendment principles, that exigency must be determined case by case by case basis on the totality of the circumstances.

The ruling means that police may still forcefully take someone’s blood, but there must be more circumstances that justify this constitutional intrusion than a routine DUI stop. Factors that may be considered is an accident with injuries or other issues that could tip the scale in favor of the government when a DUI suspect’s blood is drawn without consent and without a search warrant.

In Colorado, police are authorized to take blood without consent if there is probable cause to believe that a person was killed or suffered serious injury as a result of a DUI accident.

The Court’s ruling is another victory for the defense, but it is unfortunate that such an issue had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to be decided, since sticking a needle in anyone suspected of DUI without more circumstances involved is a clear Fourth Amendment violation.

 

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