Supreme Court Says Police Need Warrant For Blood Evidence In DWI Cases
The Case of Missouri v. McNeely was decided on April 17, 2003 striking a sharp blow to DWI/DUI enforcement this week. A man pulled over for speeding exhibited the signs of driving while intoxicated and refused to take a breath test. He was taken to the hospital and after refusing to submit to a blood test, the test was administered anyway, about almost 25 minutes after he was pulled over. The test showed a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.15%, almost twice the legal limit.
Law enforcement argued that the level of alcohol in the bloodstream diminishes over time and as such should be considered an exigent circumstance which would justify the blood draw without a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that the “totality of circumstances” must be considered by police and was not properly applied in this case. The court said police must obtain a search warrant to secure blood evidence from a DWI suspect.
Currently, New Jersey police officers have been allowed to secure blood evidence from DWI suspects based on probable cause to believe that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The police have been allowed to seize blood without a search warrant or consent from the driver. This Supreme Court ruling changes the rules for the police. Now, they must get a court authorized search warrant to obtain a blood sample from a DWI suspect. This ruling will make it more difficult for law enforcement to secure blood evidence in a DWI case.
ACLU National Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro saw the ruling as victory and stated “we know from experience that drunk-driving laws can be strictly enforced without abandoning constitutional rights. Today’s decision appropriately recognizes what half the states have already demonstrated – that maintaining highway safety does not require sacrificing personal privacy.