February 21, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- The police are out for blood
Article provided by Law Offices of Charles L. Morgan, Jr.
Visit us at http://www.criminal-defender.com/
The U.S. Supreme Court is presently considering whether police officers must always obtain a search warrant before sticking a needle in a person to collect their blood in Driving Under the Influence cases. In Missouri v. McNeely, the High Court must balance constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures with the practical reality that alcohol dissipates in blood samples and quickly and completely disappears.
The facts of the case
A Missouri state trooper pulled over Tyler McNeely in Cape Girardeau County for speeding and swerving. The trooper said McNeely's speech was slurred, he appeared unsteady on his feet and he failed multiple field sobriety tests. McNeely refused a Breathalyzer test that would measure the amount of alcohol in his body. Instead of requesting a search warrant, the trooper took McNeely to a hospital and a phlebotomist drew McNeely's blood while he was handcuffed.
McNeely's blood was tested and the alcohol content came back at 0.154 percent, which is nearly double the state's 0.08 percent legal limit. A lower Missouri state court threw out the test results, holding that they violated McNeely's right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed and ruled that police must obtain a warrant before forcibly taking a blood sample unless the delay would destroy potential evidence other than the alcohol's dissipation.
How will the highest court in the land rule?
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Missouri state prosecution's appeal due to the differing ways states interpret the U.S. Constitution's application to blood draws in DUI cases. Approximately half of U.S. states prohibit warrantless blood draws while the other half believe the dissipation of alcohol in the blood provides a sufficient basis to forego a search warrant.
In oral arguments before the High Court on January 9, 2013, the prosecutor representing the state of Missouri argued that police need an exception to the warrant requirement because of the time delay in obtaining a judge or magistrate's approval. The U.S. Department of Justice joined in, arguing that there is a strong need to deter drunk driving and blood test results are often more accurate that Breathalyzer readings.
McNeely's attorney, Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the Court has previously required a search warrant for a urine sample in other contexts and that same reasoning should be applied to the collection of blood in DUI cases. He said there is no evidence showing that the delay caused by obtaining a search warrant has impacted states' ability to effectively enforce DUI laws.
Based on the Justices' questioning during oral arguments, it is difficult to gauge what the outcome will be. However, if the Court rules that absent exigent circumstances, police must obtain a warrant before forcibly drawing blood in a DUI case, states will need to devise ways to expedite the warrant issuance procedure. But that would mean that peoples' constitutional rights are protected.
It will be unfortunate if the Court rules that the possible delay in getting a warrant justifies an exception to the warrant requirement. Such a broad granting of authority to obtain bodily fluids with as little as probable cause could and will likely lead to abuses of power. Individual states, however, would still be permitted to create stricter standards for their state and local law enforcement agencies.
Having an attorney on your side is always your best defense
The issue of warrantless blood draws in DUI cases is quite fluid and there are arguments to be made on both sides. Unfortunately, one side deprives people of their rights. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a DUI, do not hesitate to contact an experienced DUI defense attorney to discuss your situation, your options and how to protect your rights.---
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