Limit on DUI blood testing according to the US Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court finally issued a ruling on the DUI case of Missouri v. McNeely. The issue in this case was whether law enforcement may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a driver arrested for DUI under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood stream. In other words because alcohol exits the human body may a cop force an individual to a blood draw because that evidence will disappear.

The United States Supreme Court affirmed the trial courts and the Missouri’s Supreme Courts decision by holding the exigency exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment does not apply because the facts do not suggest the Officer was facing an emergency in order to qualify under this exception.

However the further and further you read through the opinion it becomes more and more confusing. In parts of Justice Sotomayors opinion she found that “the natural metabolization of alcohol does not qualify as a Fourth Amendment exigency,” but then she goes on further to state that exigency under these circumstances should be considered on a case by case basis. In fact none of the Courts four opinions – a majority, two separate opinions supporting the result, and one dissenting said that law enforcement investigating DUI cases must always get a warrant.

One interesting caveat to this opinion comes from Justice Kennedy who suggested that local law enforcement officials still retain the authority to work out rules and regulations when it comes to blood testing without a warrant in order to preserve the critical evidence of blood alcohol levels.

The lone dissenting opinion came from Justice Thomas who said that the chemical breakdown of blood alcohol was sufficient to never having to justify getting a warrant for a blood test. Basically he found the exigency exception applied in DUI cases.

So what does this mean for DUI lawyers and the general public? Well to be honest I don’t know why the opponents of this opinion are making this into a bigger issue. What will happen now? Cops will get warrants and they will force an individual to give a blood draw. It is as simple as that. The work it takes for an officer to get a warrant for a blood test is pretty minimal. You call up a Judge. Tell the Judge what you have observed. Ask for a search warrant and the Judge grants it. It literally takes an extra 5 minutes of work, and probably another 15 or so to get to a hospital to have the blood drawn. Not that complicated. But at least the requirement of going that extra mile is in place now so some hilly billy cop out in the middle of Timbuktu can’t force an innocent individual into a blood draw without sufficient probable cause to satisfy a Judge.