Warrantless blood draws for DUI cases thrown out by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, recently held that in most cases police should get a warrant before conducting a blood test on a driver who is suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI). In particular, if a driver refuses to consent to a blood test an arresting officer cannot rely on the natural dissipation of alcohol from a person’s blood stream to justify a warrantless blood draw.

The Justices were careful to note within their opinion that a warrant was not required for every situation, leaving room for interpretation with each DUI case. Instead, they called on local officials to “work out rules and guidelines that give important, practical instruction to arresting officers.”

Details of the case

The case, Missouri v. McNeely, was analyzed under the basic protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment offers the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, the removal of blood from one’s body without consent is considered a search. Conducting such a search without a warrant is only allowed if it falls within one of the listed exceptions.

As noted in the case, these exceptions include:

•· A police officer’s need to provide emergency assistance.

•· Engaging in hot pursuit of a suspect.

•· Entering a burning building to determine the cause of the fire.

•· Prevention of imminent destruction of evidence.

The case analyzed by the court applied the fourth exception: did the intrusion into the driver’s body to remove blood before the alcohol was naturally removed from the body constitute a need to prevent imminent destruction of evidence? In this case, the answer was maybe.

Officers are required to consider the “totality of the circumstances” when attempting to determine if a warrant is needed. In a previous case, SCOTUS allowed the use of a warrantless blood draw for a driver who suffered serious injuries in a car accident. The opinion stated that due to the driver’s injuries the officer had reason to proceed with the blood draw without obtaining a warrant. However, relying on the body’s basic filtration of alcohol is generally not enough to justify a warrantless search on its own.

What does this mean for you?

If you are stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence, an officer may conduct a blood draw without your consent. In some cases this will be allowed, but this type of test is often against the law.

Determining when a warrantless search is allowed is difficult. A strong criminal defense will include an analysis of such a search and attempt to establish that the officer acted outside the bounds of the law. If this is established, the evidence confiscated from the blood search would likely not be allowed in court.

If you are charged with a DUI crime, contact an experienced DUI lawyer to help build a strong defense and better ensure your legal rights are protected.