Supreme Court Refuses to Establish Per Se Rule in DUI Cases, Warrants Required For Blood Tests

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the area of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) evidence collection, and the rammifications of the case are certain to have an impact on police departments everywhere.

The case, Missouri v. McNeely, dealt with an ordinary enough sounding traffic stop. The defendant in the case, Tyler McNeely was pulled over by a Missouri police officer for speeding and crossing over the centerline. He then exercised his right to refuse a breathalyzer test (the refusal of which the Supreme Court ruled, in South Dakota v. Neville, is permissible as evidence against a defendant in a subsequent trial, and could potentially be construed as evidence of guilt). He was then arrested and transported to a nearby hospital for blood testing. He refused consent, but the officer directed the lab technician to take the sample anyway. His blood tested significantly above the limit, and he was charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).

McNeely motioned to suppress the blood test results, arguing that they violated his Fourth Amendment rights against a warrantless search. The trial court and state supreme courts agreed with McNeely, stating that there was no evidence of exigent circumstances justifying the officer’s failure to first secure a search warrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts, holding that the warrentless nonconsensual test violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment rights. The opinion holds that the natural metabolization of alcohol is not a sufficient exigent circumstance to justify a per se rule that warrantless nonconsensual blood tests are permissible in every case. It further remarks on the fact that the metabolization argument is flawed for the fact that the process will occur during the transport from traffic stop to hospital anyway.

The opinion essentially concludes without giving any framework for police officers to determine what such exigent circumstances might be, only that they may exist in some cases, rather than in all. The Court acknowledges the potential frustration that failure to establish a brightline rule may create, but that the Fourth Amendment does not allow for the adoption of an overly broad categorical approach in cases such as this.

Furthermore, apparently, due to the state’s improper interpretation of the prior case law regarding Blood Alcohol Content, which stated that lack of a warrant is acceptable in “emergency” situations when destruction of evidence appears likely, it did not put forth any exigent circumstances in the defendant’s case. Therefore, because it did not plead those facts, there were not any available for the court to consider or rule upon.

What is particularly noteworthy about this case, is not necessarily the decision that the Court ultimately reached, but their reasoning for doing so. Justice Sotomayor essentially reaffirmed the fact that individuals suspected of driving under the influence are protected against unwarranted searches and seizures of their persons, which is precisely what occurs when officers administer, or cause to be administered, these incredibly invasive blood tests, without a warrant. The decision reenforces that police must follow legally mandated procedures in order to gather admissible evidence, meaning that in this context, absent any extraordinary circumstances, police officers cannot order a blood test for BAC without a warrant. Or, if they do, the evidence will not be admissible, and your attorney can motion to have it excluded from your case.

In Massachusetts, the official term for these types of charges is Operating Under the Influence (OUI). The umbrella term is synonymous with driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI). State law characterizes an OUI offense as having occurred when an individual is found to be in operation of a motor vehicle, and has a BAC of .08% or above (21+), or .02% or higher for minors. While your first offense can carry a potential prison term, the court may allow you to complete an alcohol education course to reduce your license suspension period. Being represented by an experienced OUI defense attorney will ensure your best chance at receiving a reduced sentence or alternative punishment.

If you have been accused of or charged with an OUI, you will want to ensure that you have an aggressive, knowledgeable, and experienced Boston OUI defense attorney on your side. Patrick J. Murphy has many years of experience in aggressively defending OUI cases. This legal experience gives the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy a competitive edge when it come to helping clients understand the nature of the allegations against them, and defending individuals’ rights in order to avoid these potentially harsh penalties. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, Esq. today in order to schedule a free and confidential legal consultation. You can contact our office by calling 617-367-0450 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Miranda Warnings and the Alleged Boston Marathon Bomber, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published April 22, 2013
Attorney Patrick J. Murphy Fights for Accurate Court Records in Recent Revere Case, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published April 17, 2013

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