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Supreme Court Says No to Warrantless DUI Blood Draw

by | Apr 17, 2013

In a major victory for civil rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that in most DUI cases, police must first obtain a warrant before drawing blood without consent.

Our D.C. DUI defense attorneys are pleased to report that the justices ruled in favor of a Missouri man who was convicted of DUI after being subjected to a blood test without a warrant.

It was a close call, with the decision split 5-to-4, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagen and Anthony Kennedy comprising the majority.

The primary argument against requiring a warrant for blood draws in DUI cases was that the natural expiration of alcohol in the bloodstream constituted a destruction of evidence, which in other cases would give officers just cause for a search without a warrant.

The case, Missouri v. McNeely, had stemmed from an arrest in which an officer insisted that drawing the suspect’s blood without his consent or a warrant was excusable because the defendant’s liver was acting to destroy evidence. The defendant had been stopped for speeding and swerving and he had two prior DUI convictions. His speech was slurred and he was reportedly unsteady on his feet.

There was no question the officer had probable cause to stop him, and further there was ample evidence for him to obtain a warrant. He simply chose not to do so, and the defendant was handcuffed the entire time as he was driven to the hospital and a blood sample taken against his will.

The high court in Missouri had struck down prosecutors’ initial victory on this case, holding that the search was unconstitutional on the basis of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Part of the majority’s reasoning had to do with the fact that all states have other legal tools available to allow them to enforce laws against drunk driving that are less invasive and don’t involve drawing evidence from a person’s body without their consent.

For example, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that that all states have laws of implied consent. These are measures that mandate all motorists, by virtue of the fact that they are granted the privilege of driving, must consent to a breathalyzer test for blood alcohol testing if they are detained on suspicion of a DUI. As it stands, implied consent laws impose substantial consequences on those who refuse to undergo a breathalyzer test. Those consequences might include having a driver’s license immediately revoked or suspended, and usually that refusal can be used against a defendant in a criminal case.

Blood tests are generally considered to be more accurate than breathalyzer tests, but they are also far more invasive.

It’s worth noting though that warrants are not all that difficult for officers to obtain in these cases, at least not anymore. It used to be that an officer would at least have to drive to a substation to phone a judge and get consent. Now, officers can do it all via cell phone or digitally on their in-car laptops.

However, requiring this warrant is one more way that DUI defense lawyers might potentially challenge a DUI arrest if all procedures aren’t properly followed.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.