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U.S. Supreme Court To Consider Legality Of Warrantless Blood Draws

When a motorist is pulled over in a suspected DUI case, how far are law enforcement officers allowed to go to determine whether the driver is under the influence of alcohol without first obtaining a warrant? The U.S. Supreme Court will have to consider that question when issuing its decision in a case recently before the court.

The case at issue – Missouri v. McNeely – involves a motorist who was pulled over for speeding. The law enforcement officer believed the motorist was driving under the influence. He asked the driver to take a Breathalyzer, but the motorist refused. The police officer then decided to take the motorist to a local hospital, where he instructed a medical professional to draw the driver’s blood, even though the driver had refused to submit to a blood test.

Although the police officer had time during which he could have attempted to obtain a warrant for the blood test, he never made any efforts to obtain one. He later stated that he did not believe he was required to get a warrant to obtain a blood sample from the driver.

The blood test revealed that the driver’s blood alcohol content was .15 percent, almost twice the legal limit. In the lower courts, the results from the blood test were not considered, because they were obtained without a warrant.

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the results were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment provides that people have the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The Case Before The U.S. Supreme Court

The justices appeared hesitant to adopt the state’s contention that warrantless blood draws should be allowed when it is suspected that a motorist was driving under the influence. The state argued that warrants should not be required because obtaining a blood sample in such cases should be considered an emergency, as alcohol dissipates in the blood over time.

The justices seemed particularly concerned about allowing such an intrusive procedure to occur without first obtaining a warrant. In addition, they questioned the amount of time typically needed to obtain a warrant. Admittedly, in many locations, obtaining a warrant can be a relatively quick process. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the “main rule” is that “if you can get a warrant, you must do that.”

The justices’ decision should determine whether police officers must first obtain a warrant before ordering a blood test in a suspected DUI case. If you are facing charges of driving under the influence, consulting with a skilled criminal defense attorney will ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.

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