On April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided a case affecting the DWI laws of New York, as well as the rest of the country. In a nearly unanimous decision, the Supreme Court established that it is unconstitutional for law enforcement officers to take blood samples from suspected drunk drivers without warrants, and without other extenuating circumstances, such as the potential for loss of life or destruction of evidence.
The Huffington Post reports that the case at hand originally came out of Missouri. In that state, allegedly drunk driver Tyler McNeely was swerving and speeding on a local road when law enforcement officers stopped him. McNeely had two prior convictions for drunk driving, and refused to submit to a blood alcohol test when asked by officers. Officers conducted two field sobriety tests, both of which McNeely subsequently failed. At that point, officers could have obtained a warrant to take McNeely’s blood, but decided instead to rush him to a hospital to have a doctor draw the blood. A doctor drew McNeely’s blood while he was handcuffed, and determined that his BAC was nearly twice the legal limit.
According to NPR.org, the State of Missouri argued that a warrant is unnecessary in every suspected DWI case because the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood necessitates immediate testing, or else crucial evidence is at risk of being lost. The Supreme Court did not buy this argument. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote for the majority, opined that technology allows for a rapidly expedited warrant process and that in most jurisdictions, magistrate judges are often available around the clock to issue them.
While the Supreme Court ultimately held that it is unconstitutional for law enforcement officers to take a suspected drunk driver’s blood without a warrant in most cases, it did not specifically define the cases in which a warrantless test would be upheld. Justice Sotomayor indicated that in the case of an emergency, a blood sample taken without a warrant would be examined on a “case-by-case” basis and would have to be justified in court. As to the dissipation of alcohol in the blood, Justice Sotomayor wrote that such was inevitable in the usual cases in which officers must take a suspected drunk driver to the hospital for the blood draw.
Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenting Supreme Court Judge. Justice Thomas’ opinion was in agreement with the State of Missouri, in that he believed that the dissipation of alcohol in the blood did constitute an emergency, in which law enforcement officers should be exempted from obtaining a warrant. The United State Supreme Court’s full opinion on Missouri v. McNeely can be read here.
As Missouri v. McNeely illustrates, the procedural laws that govern DWI charges are very rarely clear cut. Drivers charged with violating DWI laws are entitled to the protection of their constitutional rights, without reservation. If you have been charged with violating a DWI law, an experienced attorney can review your case to make sure that your rights have not been violated. An experienced attorney can explain the charges against you, and represent you in court. Call the experienced attorneys at Nave DWI Defense Attorneys today for a confidential consultation at 1-866-792-7800.
Disclaimer: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: (315) 473-0899. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.