Washington, D.C. – The case of a Missouri man has made it to the Supreme Court where justices will question the legality of allowing police to conduct blood tests on suspected drunk drivers without a warrant.
According to ABC News, the case before the high-court stems from the arrest of Missouri man in October 2010. After consuming a beer at a local bar, Tyler McNeely was pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving, during the stop State Highway Patrol Officer Mark Winder noticed signs of intoxication, a strong-odor of alcohol, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.
Winder asked McNeely to submit to a breathalyzer and a blood test, but McNeely refused. However, Winder took McNeely to a local hospital to have his blood drawn anyway in order to collect evidence of intoxication crucial to securing a DUI conviction, ABC News explained.
Winder failed to obtain a warrant to blood test arguing that, “Obtaining a search warrant in the middle of the night in Cape Girardeau County involves a delay, on average, of approximately two hours.” In the time it would take to get the warrant, the alcohol would dissipate no longer providing sufficient proof that McNeely was intoxicated at the time of his arrest.
The Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, is the heart of the issue for the Supreme Court as they weigh whether “dissipation of alcohol in the blood over time is reason enough for police to call for a blood test without a warrant,” the Associated Press explained.
In his trial McNeely moved to have the evidence suppressed and, although his blood alcohol was .154, twice the legal limit, the court sided with him. The court determined that the blood test did not meet criteria for a warrantless blood test which includes endangerment of life, and the destruction of evidence, according to ABC News story.
The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial court, but attorneys for the Obama Administration and the state of Missouri asked the justices to reject the court’s ruling and give police permission to take a blood test without a warrant.
Thirty-two states also urged the court to approve the warrantless tests on the basis that “State’s interest in fairly and accurately determining guilt or innocence for this serious crime outweighs an individual’s interest in avoiding the slight intrusion involved in the halting that evidence destruction by obtaining a blood sample.”
Since alcohol-related accidents take thousands of lives each year Mothers Against Drunk Driving are in favor of the warrantless blood tests.
McNeely is being represented by the ACLU, whose attorney, Steven R. Shapiro argued that the Supreme Court shouldn’t adopt a general rule without consideration for circumstances in each case.
Shapiro wrote in court documents, the state of Missouri, “overstates the need for warrantless blood test, and understates the affront to personal privacy and dignity when the States override an individual’s objection and sticks a needle in his arm.”
Missouri, like most states, have laws which require a person, who refuses a breathalyzer or blood test, to surrender their driver license for three-months to a year, and their refusal is can be used as evidence against them in court. So it begs the question, are warrantless blood tests necessary if the arrestee is automatically subjected to penalties for refusing blood alcohol tests?
Supreme Court Justices heard two hours of oral arguments and posed questions Wednesday, but gave little indication on how they will decide in the case, although some justices did express concern about the seriousness of sticking a needle in person’s arm without their consent. The court will hand down their decision sometime this summer.