Is Taking Blood on DUI Suspicion an Illegal Search?

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled recently, in Missouri v. McNeely, that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood stream does not always constitute an “exigency” sufficient to justify drawing blood without a warrant.

In that case, Tyler McNeely was stopped shortly after 2:00 a.m. for speeding and crossing the centerline. McNeely told the officer that he had “a couple of beers”. McNeely performed poorly on a series of field sobriety tests. However, McNeely refused to take a breathalyzer test. The officer arrested McNeely and took him to a nearby hospital for blood testing. McNeely refused to consent to the blood draw and the police officer never attempted to obtain a search warrant for the blood draw. The police ordered a lab technician to take a blood sample from McNeely. The blood sample demonstrated that McNeely blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.154 percent, which was over the legal limit of 0.08 percent. McNeely was then charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Before trial, McNeely moved to suppress the results of the blood draw arguing that taking his blood without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The State of Missouri argued that the fact that all cases involving intoxication, blood alcohol is metabolized by the liver which makes it impracticable to obtain a warrant.  These types of cases can exist here in Las Vegas as well.

The trial court agreed with McNeely and suppressed the results of the blood  draw. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and held that a court must consider whether an emergency, or exigent circumstances, exist on a case- by-case basis by considering the “totality of the circumstances”. The Missouri Supreme Court determined that McNeely’s was “unquestionably a routine DWI case” in which no factors other than the natural dissipation of blood-alcohol suggested that there was an emergency, the court held that the nonconsensual warrantless blood draw violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of his person.

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear McNeely’s case to resolve a split of authority on the question of whether the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream always allows forcibly drawing a driver’s blood without a warrant. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed with the Missouri Supreme Court and held that each case must be decided on its facts.

The Supreme Court of the United States acknowledged that search warrants are ordinarily required for searches of dwellings and, absent an emergency, no less could be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned. The Court recognized that
BAC dissipates gradually and in a relatively predictable manner which differentiates the context of blood testing from other destruction-of-evidence cases in which the police are truly confronted with a “‘now or never’” situation. The Court’s decision reaffirmed the essential role of a neutral magistrate judge’s decision, of whether to grant a warrant, as a check on police discretion.

The law on DUI cases can be a bit more complex than you may first imaging.  If you are needing an attorney to protect your rights, please give the Potter Criminal Defense team a call today!