Can a person suspected of drunk driving be compelled to submit to a blood test without a warrant? That is the question before the U. S. Supreme Court today.
In October of 2010, a Missouri man, Tyler McNeely, was stopped by the Missouri State Highway Patrol for speeding, after having a beer at a local bar. Noticing signs of intoxication, the patrolman requested McNeely to submit to an alcohol breath test or blood test, which he refused.
After arresting McNeely, Cpl. Mark Winder decided to take McNeely to the hospital for a blood test to “secure evidence of intoxication,” without first obtaining a warrant.
That nonconsensual blood test — considered a “search” in legalese — is at issue in front of the Supreme Court, which is expected to clarify when and under what circumstances a warrantless search can occur in such cases.
In court papers, lawyers for Missouri say that Winder didn’t attempt to obtain a search warrant prior to the blood test in part because, “Obtaining a search warrant in the middle of the night in Cape Girardeau County involves a delay, on average, of approximately two hours.”
Winder was concerned about the rate of elimination of alcohol in the bloodstream, which diminishes over time.
It turns out McNeely’s blood alcohol level was 0.154 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent . In court, McNeely moved to suppress the evidence against him, saying his constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure were violated.
The trial court agreed with McNeely and found that “the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream alone was not a sufficient factor to justify a warrantless blood draw in a routine stop.” The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Supreme Court will hear the case today.
If you believe your constitutional rights have been violated, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to attorneys who specifically handle civil rights violations. Call 603-229-0002 or submit an online referral request.