The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the decision of the Missouri State Supreme Court, requiring a warrant prior to drawing blood for sobriety blood tests in DUI/DWI cases, except when a delay could be life threatening or could destroy potential evidence.
The court declined to define specific life threatening or evidentiary requirements that could justify not obtaining a warrant, and left it to future cases to determine. However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor in writing for the court, held that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream is not sufficient reason to do a blood test without a judge’s issuance of a search warrant.
This landmark decision found that the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure applies, and that police cannot force a person to submit without consent to a blood test in a DUI case without probable cause and a warrant.
This decision, Missouri v. McNeely, 11-1425, stems from the case of Tyler McNeely who was stopped by a Missouri state trooper in rural Cape Girardeau County. McNeely’s car was swerving, his speech was slurred, and he was unsteady on his feet. He had two prior drunk driving convictions, and refused to take a breath test.
After failing field sobriety tests, it seems clear the trooper had sufficient probable cause to get a warrant, but chose not to and instead, drove the handcuffed McNeely to a local hospital, where a blood test was performed without McNeely’s consent. His blood alcohol level registered at 0.154%, nearly double the legal limit of 0.08%.