The ruling is now official, straight from the highest court in the land: If you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI and refuse to provide a blood sample upon request, the officer must obtain a warrant before forcing you to submit – usually.
Our Birmingham DUI defense lawyers know that the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Missouri v. McNeely will have sweeping implications for future and pending DUI cases.
Certainly, officers in future DUI arrests are going to be directed to go through the proper procedure in order to obtain a warrant before initiating blood draw without consent.
For pending cases, blood samples taken without a warrant may be subject to suppression. That is, your defense lawyer has a good chance at making a successful argument for why the prosecutor can’t use that evidence against you.
This is a major victory because the last time the court ruled on this issue was 1966, and at that time, the justices decided that the warrant requirement didn’t apply to a man who had his blood tested two hours after he’d been in the hospital, following a crash. In that case, the court had indicated there were “special facts” involved.
In the McNeely case the officer stopped the defendant for suspected DUI. The defendant refused a breathalyzer and was subsequently taken to a nearby hospital. He also refused a blood test. The officer said he could have fairly easily obtained a warrant to do so anyway, but he chose not to because he had recently read an article that indicated it wasn’t necessary.
The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed, and sided with the defendant. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The argument against requiring warrants has a lot to do with biology. Alcohol usually dissipates from the bloodstream at a rate of about 0.015 percent to 0.020 percent per hour, which means the more time passes, the less alcohol a person will have in his or her system. The state had attempted to argue that this essentially amounts to destruction of evidence.
However, the court disagreed. First, it said warrants are not that difficult or time-consuming to obtain. Often, they can be obtained without the officer ever having to leave the site of the traffic stop.
Secondly, all states have implied consent laws, which hold that if you are a motorist and refuse to take a breathalyzer test, you can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor and will receive an automatic, long-term license suspension. These penalties are substantial enough, the court ruled, that forcing a person to undergo an invasive procedure without even the benefit of a warrant was taking it too far.
The exception to this rule would be in exigent circumstances. However, it’s a vague standard, and one that may be easily challenged in court, should an officer attempt a warrantless blood draw in the future on this basis.