The Police Ain’t Dracula: They Can’t Take Your Blood Without A Warrant.
Missouri v. McNeely
The U.S. Supreme Court
133 S.Ct. 1552
Decided on April 17, 2013
Blood Warrants: Police Cant Take Your blood Without A Warrant
Summary: Missouri Police stopped Defendant McNeeley for speeding. Defendant refused to take a breath test and was arrested. Police took Defendant to a nearby hospital to take a blood test without obtaining a warrant. Defendant refused to consent to the blood test but the Officer directed a lab technician to take a sample. Defendant’s blood alcohol levels were high and he was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). At trial, Defendant moved to suppress his blood test, arguing that his blood was taken without a warrant and was a violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights.
The trial court agreed concluding that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply. Despite the Defendants blood alcohol test that was above the legal limit, no circumstances suggested that the Police faced an emergency to direct that test, without obtaining a warrant first. The U.S Supreme Court held that the nonconsensual warrantless test violated Defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of his person. There was not an exigent circumstance that the officer faced other than the natural dissipation of blood alcohol to suggest that there was an emergency.
Issue: Whether a Defendant who is ordered by police to take a breath test during a DWI investigation and refuses, constitutes an ‘exigent circumstance’ to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.
Holding: No. The U.S Supreme Court held, relying on Schmerber v. California 384 U.S 757, that a routine DWI investigation where no factors suggested that there was an emergency other than the natural dissipation of blood alcohol, and, thus, the nonconsensual warrantless test violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of his person. The warrant process will not significantly increase the delay before the blood test is conducted. The officer can take steps to secure a warrant while the suspect is being transported to a medical facility.
Facts: Defendant Tyler McNeely was speeding and swerving his truck when he was suspected of drunk driving by Missouri Police. Upon arrest, Police stated Defendant smelled of alcohol, had blood shot eyes, and slurred speech. After performing poorly on sobriety tests, Police arrested him and began to transport him back to the station. Police asked McNeely to provide a breath sample and he refused. Police changed their course and brought McNeely to a nearby hospital to withdraw blood from him. At the hospital, the officer directed a lab technician to take a blood sample from Defendant without his consent.
Subsequent laboratory testing measured McNeely’s BAC well above the legal limit and he was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). Defendant moved to suppress the blood test, arguing that under the circumstances, the taking of his blood without first obtaining a warrant violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court agreed stating that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because there were no circumstances suggesting that the Officer faced an emergency in which he could not practicably obtain a warrant. The U.S Supreme Court affirmed and held that such an invasion of bodily integrity implicates individuals most personal and deep-rooted expectation of privacy and therefore the judgment is affirmed because it violated Defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.
Legal Analysis: The U. S Supreme Court held that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood stream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to conduct a blood test without a warrant. When Police in a drunk-driving investigation can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without undermining the assessment of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so. Exigency in this context must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances. The exigencies of McNeely’s situation did not make the needs of Police so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, and shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause. Such an invasion of bodily integrity implicated an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy. In this case, The Court Of Appeals found that the Officer could have taken steps to obtain a warrant before lab technicians withdrew blood from Defendant. Defendant’s Fourth Amendment right for the protection of such invasion was violated, and therefore the judgment is affirmed.