The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a case out of Missouri that may have serious implications for the Fourth Amendment rights of those charged with driving under the influence (DUI). Specifically, Missouri v. McNeel examines whether police may take a blood sample from someone suspected of DUI to determine his blood alcohol content (BAC), even though the police do not have a warrant and the suspect has not provided his consent.
Facts of McNeel
At 2:08 a.m. on October 3, 2010, a Missouri highway patrolman stopped Tyler McNeel for speeding in the town of Cape Girardeau. In the course of the stop, the officer observed signs that McNeel had been drinking and he asked whether he would submit to routine field sobriety tests. McNeel agreed to participate and he failed each one of the four tests. The officer then twice requested that McNeel take a Breathalyzer test to determine his BAC, but McNeel refused. After McNeel refused the second test, the officer transported him to a local medical clinic, where he asked whether he would submit to a blood test. McNeel refused and the officer ordered medical staff to perform the tests anyway. The results indicated that McNeel's BAC was nearly twice the .08 legal limit and the officer arrested him for DUI.
Before McNeel's trial began, his attorney moved to exclude the blood test evidence because police obtained it without a warrant and without his client's consent. The trial court agreed, but their decision was overturned on appeal. The appellate court relied on the 1966 Supreme Court decision Schmerber v. California, in which the Court held that police could, under some circumstances, take a blood sample from a DUI suspect without a warrant and without the suspect's consent. These situations arise, the Court reasoned, because the evidence of the crime — the alcohol in the suspect's bloodstream — is metabolized and destroyed as time passes. In an emergency, police may not be able to take the time to get a warrant before ordering a blood test.
The Missouri Supreme Court eventually overturned the appellate court's decision. The state of Missouri, with help from federal prosecutors, appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Their ruling in the case is expected later this year.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or someone you love has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or any other crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can assess your case, explain the effect of a conviction or plea deal and help you protect your rights. For more information about what a criminal defense attorney can do for you, contact a lawyer today.