Supreme Court To Issue Decision In DUI Case

The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that may have serious implications for drivers' Fourth Amendment rights. The specific issue in contention in Missouri v. McNeely is whether law enforcement can order a blood alcohol test without first obtaining a warrant.

The Facts Of McNeely

On October 3, 2010, a Missouri highway patrolman stopped Tyler McNeely for speeding in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In the course of the stop, the officer developed the suspicion that McNeely had been drinking and he requested he perform a series of standard field sobriety tests, all of which McNeely failed. After McNeely refused the officer's repeated requests to submit to a Breathalyzer test, he was transported to a local hospital, where the officer asked whether he would submit to a blood test. Once again, McNeely refused. The officer then ordered staff to take McNeely's blood without his consent, even though the officer had not obtained a warrant for the test. The test indicated that McNeely's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .154, nearly twice the .08 legal limit. McNeely was charged with driving under the influence (DUI).

Before trial, McNeely's attorney argued the blood test results should be excluded from evidence because the sample was taken without his client's consent and without a warrant. Although the trial court agreed, the objection was overturned on appeal. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld the trial court and ruled the blood evidence was inadmissible at trial without a warrant. The state of Missouri then brought the issue to the Supreme Court.

Although the Fourth Amendment generally requires police to obtain a warrant before a search, there are, of course, many exceptions to the rule. In its initial ruling, the Missouri appeals court relied on the Supreme Court's 1966 decision in Schmerber v. California, which upheld the admissibility of a blood sample without consent and without a warrant. In Schmerber, the Court ruled that a warrant was not always necessary to administer a BAC test because alcohol in the blood stream diminishes over time. If police are unable to collect a sample immediately after an accident, there is a chance that the evidence may be destroyed as the suspect's body metabolizes the alcohol in his or her bloodstream.

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the McNeely case and is expected to release its decision later this year.

A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

If you or someone you love is facing charges for driving under the influence or any other offense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can assess your case, counsel you on the possible effects of a conviction or plea agreement, and help you protect your rights. For more information about what a criminal defense attorney can do for you, contact a lawyer today.