The United States is set to decide a case that will determine whether police can compel an individual suspected of driving under the influence to submit to a blood test without a warrant. The case, Missouri v. McNeely, was argued before the Court earlier this year, and a decision will likely be issued this spring.
The case began when Tyler McNeely was stopped for speeding by a police officer on October 3, 2010, near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. After failing several field sobriety tests, McNeely refused a breathalyzer test. The officer then took McNeely to a nearby clinic where he requested the staff test his blood for alcohol. The tests showed that McNeely's blood-alcohol concentration was over the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated.
The trial court dismissed McNeely's case, accepting his argument that the state needed a warrant to draw his blood. On Appeal, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed, a decision that was in turn reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on September 25th of 2012.
The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution operates to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by state actors. Normally, a search is presumed invalid in the absence of a warrant, but over the years, 4th Amendment jurisprudence was created many exceptions to this rule. One of these exceptions is known as the “exigent circumstances” exception, in which an officer may engage in a search or seizure to prevent the impending destruction or loss of evidence. In this case, Missouri is arguing that the natural dissipation of alcohol from a suspect's bloodstream is akin to the destruction of evidence, thereby justifying the warrantless search.
While the exigent circumstances argument seems to make sense, the Supreme Court has traditionally held searches into the body of suspects particularly intrusive, and therefore of the type that require the highest level of judicial oversight, i.e., a warrant. The outcome of this case will have national implications on how DUI investigations are conducted and whether an officer can compel a person to submit to a blood test. If you have been charged with a DUI in Virginia, you should consult with an experienced Fairfax DUI attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a consultation with a Virginia DUI lawyer, contact Wilfred Yeargan today via phone or via email at through our online contact form available here.