U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Warrantless Blood Tests for DUI Suspects in Missouri Case

Apr 19, 2013 at 11:45 am

Cops cannot force suspected drunk drivers to give a blood sample without a warrant, according to a ruling this week in a Missouri case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The decision has broad implications for Fourth Amendment rights, says Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, which represented a Cape Girardeau man in the suit.

"This will affect the whole country," he tells Daily RFT.

In the decision, full version on view below, the justices sided with Missouri resident Tyler McNeely, who was subjected to a blood test when officers stopped him on suspicions of driving under the influence.

This decision, the ACLU says, establishes that, unless there is a true emergency, the police must take the time to obtain a warrant for a DUI blood test, with a decision that reaffirms constitutional protections against "unreasonable searches and seizures by the government."

"It's an important Fourth Amendment case," Rothert says. "You can certainly enforce laws without abandoning constitutional rights.... We are pretty pleased."

The decision, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, says:

When officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so....

Moreover, because an officer must typically take a DWI suspect to a medical facility and obtain a trained medical professional's assistance before having a blood test conducted, some delay between the time of the arrest or accident and time of the test is inevitable regardless of whether a warrant is obtained....

Finally, the government's general interest in combating drunk driving does not justify departing from the warrant requirement without showing exigent circumstances that make securing a warrant impractical in a particular case.

Last year, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that drunk driving cases here are not an exception to the Fourth Amendment and Rothert says that this Supreme Court ruling establishes that protection more broadly.

"The rest of the country will be following the Missouri rule," he says.

Here's the full decision.

Mcneely Supreme Court Decision

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