Unwarranted DWI Blood Draw Dispute Advances

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether police can draw the blood of a suspected drunken driver without consent or a warrant to prevent the body from naturally destroying evidence.
     Tyler McNeely is fighting to suppress the evidence of his forcibly drawn blood alcohol content in the drunken driving case against him in Missouri.
     A state highway patrolman had pulled McNeely over for speeding at 2:08 a.m. and arrested him for drunken driving shortly thereafter.
     The officer said McNeely was slurring his speech and had alcohol on his breath. The suspect’s eyes were allegedly bloodshot and he also failed a field sobriety test.
     When McNeely would not consent to an alcohol breath test or blood test, the officer ordered a nonconsensual blood draw without seeking a warrant. The test, taken at 2:33 a.m., showed that McNeely’s blood-alcohol content was well above the legal limit.
     A judge in Cape Girardeau County suppressed the evidence, however, after finding that the nonconsensual and warrantless blood draw violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment rights.
     In his defense, the patrolman said he thought that recent changes to Missouri’s implied consent law removed the need for a warrant when an officer wishes to conduct a nonconsensual blood test on a DWI suspect.
     The Missouri Supreme Court concluded that exigent circumstances did not preclude the need for a warrant.
     Though the percentage of alcohol in a person’s system diminishes as time passes from his last drink, the court said that this threat of evidence destruction does not justify a forcible blood draw within minutes of an arrest.
     Absent the existence of “special facts,” other than the natural dissipation alcohol in the blood, officer must obtain warrants before gathering blood evidence in routine DWI cases, the January decision states.
     “Defendant’s case is unquestionably a routine DWI case,” the unanimous decision stated. “Although his body was working naturally to expunge the alcohol in his system, there were no other ‘special facts’ of exigency in his case. There was no accident to investigate and no injuries to attend to that required the patrolman to expend time, delaying his request of defendant to submit to blood-alcohol testing. The patrolman could not identify any exigent circumstances and made no attempt to obtain a search warrant. The nonconsensual, warrantless blood draw was taken only 25 minutes after defendant was stopped.”
     On Tuesday, the Supreme Court granted Missouri a writ of certiorari. Per its custom, the court issued no comment on the case.

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