Call Us: 202-630-0939

Supreme Court To Rule on DUI Blood Tests

by | Oct 9, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take on the issue of whether law enforcement agencies must first obtain a warrant before forcing a person suspected of DUI to provide a blood sample.

D.C. DUI lawyers know that this case could well set a new legal precedent for privacy standards of motorists.

Historically, the court has tended to vote in favor of law enforcement in these matters.

For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld provisions enacted by states to punish the refusal of a motorist to submit to a breathalyzer test, ruling that there is an “implied consent” by virtue of the fact that the individual is operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has also previously ruled that a person’s refusal to submit to a chemical test can be admitted as evidence in a DUI case, and does not violate the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is the right to protect against self-incrimination.

However, the issue before us now gets to the very heart of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This is the amendment that protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. Judges across the country have been split on this issue because, for one, states have a range of differing laws on the matter and secondly, there is no more intimate search than of onesself.

While both Maryland and Virginia have laws that penalize drivers for refusing to submit to a chemical test (it’s considered an admission of guilt), are 27 states right now that have banned the nonconsensual, warrantless drawing of blood.

So this case may not be as clear-cut as it initially seems.

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, representing defendant Tyler McNeely, argue that law enforcement agencies should first be required to obtain a warrant before forcing a person to undergo a chemical blood test.

Conversely, attorneys for the state of Missouri are arguing that because alcohol does not remain long in the system, the time factor is critical. To have to wait on a decision from a judge could ultimately impact the outcome of the case, they contend.

The case started when McNeely was pulled over for speeding shortly after 2 a.m. by a highway patrol officer in Missouri. The officer noted that McNeely’s speech was slurred and he reportedly smelled of alcohol. When he was asked to get out of the car, he was wobbly on his feet and was unable to properly complete field sobriety tests. McNeely was arrested, but upon arrest, refused to submit to a blood test. The officer drove him to a hospital and forced him to provide a blood sample against his will. (The result was 0.154 percent, almost double the legal limit of 0.08 percent.) There was no attempt on the trooper’s part to obtain a warrant.

During the district court trial, McNeely’s DUI defense lawyers argued that the blood test results should be thrown out because there had been no warrant and he had been forced to submit to it against his will. The trial court judge sided with the defense.

The case was appealed up the chain, and now is set to be heard by he U.S. Supreme Court justices. A decision can be expected by next spring.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-765-3175.