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Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of involuntary blood tests

The United States Supreme Court will decide whether law enforcement must first obtain a warrant before forcing drunk driving suspects to take a blood test.
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    April 03, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of involuntary blood tests

This year, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether law enforcement must first obtain a warrant before forcing drunk driving suspects to take a blood test. The court's decision in the case, Missouri v. McNeely will decide the extent that the Fourth Amendment--protection against unreasonable searches and seizures--goes in such instances.

Facts of the case

The McNeely case began when a Missouri Highway Patrolman pulled over Tyler McNeely for speeding. During the stop, the officer suspected that McNeely was drinking and driving. As a result, the officer asked McNeely to perform several field sobriety tests, which he performed poorly. The officer then asked McNeely to submit to a breath test, which he refused.

After the refusal, the officer transported McNeely to a clinic and asked the staff to take a blood sample for analysis over McNeely's objections. The test results confirmed that McNeely's blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit. He was then charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

At trial, McNeely's attorneys argued that the forced blood test violated his Fourth Amendment rights; therefore, the results should be inadmissible. The trial court agreed and barred the results from being used against McNeely as evidence.

On appeal, prosecutors argued that the police officers were justified in taking the blood evidence without a warrant. They based their argument on the body's natural metabolism of alcohol. Since the level of alcohol in McNeely's bloodstream would dissipate over time, they argued that they were entitled to take a blood sample to preserve the evidence, as getting a warrant would take some time. The appeals court agreed and reversed the trial court's decision.

The Missouri Supreme Court reviewed the case and agreed with the trial court that a warrant was necessary. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court for a final decision on the issue.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case. In the past, the court ruled that the Fourth Amendment requires police to get a warrant in all but a few emergency circumstances, where any delay would likely lead to the destruction of evidence. During oral argument, the questions that the justices asked the Missouri prosecutors seemed to indicate that they were skeptical of prosecutors' claim that the metabolism of blood constitutes such an emergency that would call for an intrusive warrantless search, such as a blood test.

California's present law allows forced blood tests if one refuses either the blood or breath test the police must offer the driver. It is a mistake to refuse a test in California because, even if your blood alcohol level is below the legal limit of .08%, the law provides for the mandatory loss of your driving privileges for one full year on a first time DUI just for refusing. If stopped, most DUI attorneys agree, you should choose the breath test, which tests for alcohol only. A blood test can be retested by your defense team, but there are fewer defenses to it, and if there are any prescription of non-prescription drugs in your system, they can be found through testing at a later time.

A criminal defense attorney can help

The court's decision is expected later this spring. If the court finds in favor of McNeely, it will make clear that DUI suspects have constitutional protections against forced blood tests.

Regardless of how the court rules, if you are charged with drunk driving, you can face harsh penalties, so it is important to protect your rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney can ensure that your rights are respected and work to ensure the most favorable outcome.

Article provided by Jerrold M. Bodow, Attorney at Law, A.P.L.C.
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