The United States Supreme Court held today in the case of Missouri v. McNeely that the natural dissipation of alcohol by the body did not justify a blood draw without a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. As a , the Court decision to take a case-by-case approach is consistent with the protections of the Fourth Amendment and will ensure that officers make some efforts to obtain a warrant, leaving for the trial court the decision of whether the circumstances in any particular case rose to the level of exigent circumstances to excuse the warrant requirement.
In this case, the police officer took the defendant to the hospital to obtain a blood draw after the defendant indicated that he would refuse a breath test. The defendant’s breath test results were .154 and were excluded from evidence by the trial court and Missouri Supreme Court. The State appealed to the United States Supreme Court. You can read the decision of the United States Supreme Court by clicking on this link. .
The State argued that because the body eliminates alcohol over time that this creates an exigent circumstances that eliminates the need for a warrant under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The United States Supreme Court rejected this argument, for the following reasons:
1. The Court held that the warrant requirement applies to search of the person as the court held in Schmerber v. California.
2. The natural metabolism by the body of alcohol did not create exigent circumstances to justify disregarding the warrant requirement in all cases and that the court would consider whether exigent circumstances were present based on the totality of the circumstances of each case rather than by creating a categorical rule that would overly limit Fourth Amendment protections.
3. Further, the Court rejected the exigent circumstances argument because it held that technological advancements in securing a warrant reduce the time and potential loss of evidence; further, the court held that in any case there is a natural delay between the time of arrest and transportation to the hospital, undermining the argument that there is not time to obtain a warrant.
4. The Court found that the rule proposed by the State would be over broad and inconsistent with the protection provided by the Fourth Amendment, because in some cases the officers would have time to get a warrant as a result of proximity of the hospital to the area of the arrest and based on technology advances in securing a warrant.
5. The Court rejected the policy arguments advanced by the State that the compelling interest to reduce drunk driving justifies a departure from the warrant requirement.
The Court affirmed the decision of the trial court. The key factor in this decision was that the officer made no effort to obtain a warrant and testified that he had obtained warrants in previous cases. Had the officer made some efforts to get a warrant, the court may have decided the case differently. Accordingly, the McNeely case indicates that the court will take a case-by-case approach to warrantless blood draws in DUI arrests. The United States Supreme Court applied its Fourth Amendment case law in the DUI context as in other areas of criminal defense, rejecting the argument by the State that Constitutional rights should be curtailed or should be interpreted differently to severe a policy interest of reducing drunk driving. While recognizing the goal of reducing DUI offenses, the Court found there were ample methods of achieving this result without diminishing the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment.