On April 17, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court issued the opinion of Missouri v McNeely and ruled that it violates the Fourth Amendment for a police officer to forcefully take a driver’s blood as part of a routine DWI investigation.
Tyler McNeely was stopped for speeding and crossing the center line at about 2:00 AM. McNeely did poorly on field sobriety tests and admitted to having had a few. He had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and smelled of alcohol. After the arrest the officer was transporting McNeely to the station and McNeely said he would refuse a breath test. The officer then changed course and took McNeely to a hospital for blood testing. McNeely refused to give the lab technician his consent to draw blood and the officer directed the technician to do so anyway. The officer never attempted to get a search warrant. The blood test revealed a BAC over the legal limit and McNeely later objected to the admission of this evidence at his trial. The trial court agreed and suppressed the evidence of the blood results so it could not used against McNeely at trial. The State appealed and the case made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Government argued that the Supreme Court should adopt a per se rule that it is always permissible for an officer to take a driver’s blood to test his blood alcohol content without a warrant. The Government reasoned that time causes the alcohol in one’s blood to dissipate and the passage of time is reason enough to search without getting a warrant. The Government sought to expand the ruling in Schmerber v California 384 U.S. 757 (1966) in which a warrantless blood draw was ruled constitutional because there was delay when officers had to investigate a crash and then transport the driver to a hospital for treatment.
The Court, with Justice Sotomayor writing for the majority, ruled the officer violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Court explained that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream is not a sufficient exigent circumstance to allow this warrantless search absent some additional cause of delay like the car crash in Schmerber. The Court ruled that each case must be examined individually and no single rule would suffice to protect the Fourth Amendment.