U.S. Supreme Court rules against warrantless DUI blood draws
A new law handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court states that police must obtain a warrant before drawing blood from a suspect in a driving under the influence (DUI) case, effective immediately. The new law will affect many states, including California, where law enforcement previously did not require a warrant to draw blood in drunk-driving cases.
The 8-1 Supreme Court decision, with Justice Clarence Thomas the lone dissenter, cited a violation of the Fourth Amendment as the major factor in the ruling. In the landmark case of Missouri v. McNeely, Tyler McNeely was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. He refused to take a breathalyzer and was taken to a hospital, where police ordered his blood drawn without seeking a warrant. The state argued that because alcohol was dissipating in his bloodstream, valuable evidence was being lost; therefore, a warrant was not needed.
The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that in this case, and in most cases, there is ample time to request and receive a warrant. Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “In those drunk driving investigations where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so.” The court does allow a non-consensual blood draw if there are “exigent” circumstances, which must later be justified in court.
A 1966 Supreme Court decision, Schmerber v. California, also ruled that a person’s blood is protected under the Fourth Amendment. But the ruling contained a clause that if there were exigent circumstances in a drunk driving case, blood could be drawn without a warrant. Many states went on to interpret the dissipation of alcohol in the blood stream as an exigent circumstance, and have been bypassing the warrant process for the past 47 years.
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their person against unreasonable searches and seizure, and that “no warrants shall issue, except under probable cause.” The high court’s guiding standard has long been “reasonableness” and the justices here again said the warrant requirement can be suspended under exigent circumstances, such as the risk of endangering lives or destruction of evidence. But the court has also said state intrusions into one’s own body generally require prior review and approval by a judge.
But the overall people should know that more than 10,000 people were killed in alcohol related motor vehicle incidents last year. That is one death every 51 minutes, and another 500,000 people on average are injured annually in alcohol related crashes. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.
By: Lawrence Levy, ESQ. Senior Counsel