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The US Supreme Court rejects routine no-warrant DUI blood tests

WASHINGTON – The US Supreme Court has ruled that police officers must try to get a warrant before taking blood samples from suspects charged with drunk driving.

The ruling was issued for Missouri v. McNeely, 11-1425, in which the justices sided with a Missouri man who was forced to submit to blood testing without a warrant. The case came from Cape Girardeau County, where, on Oct. 3, 2010, Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Mark Winder pulled over Tyler McNeely. McNeely, had slurred speech, the odor alcohol on his breath, and failed field sobriety tests.  Moreover, he twice refused to take a breath test.  Blood tests revealed he had nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

Writing for the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood is generally not sufficient reason to remove the requirement that police get a judge’s approval before drawing a blood sample.

Missouri and the Federal government had asked the court to endorse a blanket rule that would have allowed the tests without a warrant.

Eight of the nine justices rejected this argument. Only Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with Missouri and the U.S. government that the metabolization of alcohol in the blood created the kind of emergency that does not require a warrant.

Justice Sotomayor wrote, “such emergencies must be determined by the circumstances in a case-by-case examination and rejected the notion that officers face a “now or never” situation in obtaining blood-alcohol tests.”

“In those drunk-driving investigations where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so,” Sotomayor wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with the outcome of the case, which affirmed a decision from the Missouri Supreme Court, but criticized the vagueness of the majority’s test as not offering much guidance about when police may dispense with a warrant. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a separate opinion, stated a later case may give the Court the opportunity to comment more on that subject.

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